Around The Rinks: Isaiah Saville is close being 18th Alaskan to play in NHL, Michael Bullion crushed his AHL debut, Nolan Walker is just ruling in ECHL

By Van Williams

Isaiah Saville

Anchorage, Alaska (Alaska Sports Report) – Goaltender Isaiah Saville of Anchorage is in the NHL for the first time, but he’s not yet officially the 18th Alaskan to play in the world’s best hockey league.

If that sounds weird – it does – here’s the rub: To be considered an NHLer, a player must play in an NHL game.

Saville, who the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday called up from the Henderson Silver Knights, their American Hockey League affiliate, served as Jiri Patera’s backup Thursday night in Vegas’ 5-4 loss at Toronto. That means Saville took warmups, sat on the bench, and was listed on the official scoresheet, but did not play. Vegas next plays Saturday at Florida.

Saville was summoned to the NHL because Aiden Hill, who backstopped Vegas to the Stanley Cup last season, in injured. No. 2 goalie Logan Thompson is banged up too – he’s listed as day-to-day, hence Patera’s start Thursday.

So, Saville is only a groin strain or coach’s decision away from being the first Alaskan to debut in the NHL in nearly three years. Boston Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman of Anchorage made his NHL debut April 6, 2021.

Saville earned his promotion in part because of injuries in the Vegas depth chart, but also because he crushed his first three AHL starts this season. After missing the first two months of the season with an undisclosed injury, Saville this month for Henderson went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.

And Saville’s promotion created a wonderful domino effect for another masked man from Anchorage. Henderson elevated Michael Bullion of Anchorage from Savannah of the ECHL and all Bullion did in his AHL debut Wednesday was stop 31 shots in a 5-1 victory over Coachella Valley.

While Saville, 23, isn’t technically an NHLer yet, he is getting paid like one. The current final season of his three-year, entry-level deal with Vegas pays him a salary of $775,000 compared to his minor-league salary of $70,000 – those numbers courtesy of capfriendly.com. Because hockey players’ salaries are for the regular-season only and pro-rated in circumstances like Saville’s, he’s gone from making, roughly, $400 a day to more than $4,000 a day. While he no doubt would give up the difference just to be an official NHLer, the 10-fold increase in pay is a soft landing.

Oh, and Swayman – yeah, he’s still prospering. He sits third in the NHL in goals-against average (2.06) and fractionally second behind Hill in save percentage – Hill checks in a .93349 and Swayman at .93348.

Alaskans currently feature in multiple success stories at the top three levels of North American hockey. While Saville and Bullion are on promotion and Swayman continues to soar, second-year pro center Nolan Walker of Anchorage keeps killing it for ECHL Kansas City.

Nolan Walker

Walker on Wednesday scored two goals for the Mavericks in a 3-1 win over visiting Tulsa. That marked his third two-goal game in December and fourth this season. He’s earned 9-6—17 totals in the last 10 games. In 25 games overall, he owns 14-13—27 and plus-11 totals. Through Thursday’s game, he was tied for fourth on the circuit in goals and tied for 12th in points.

What makes those numbers even more stunning is Walker last season as a rookie for Newfoundland put up solid numbers — 15-26—41 totals in 68 games – but nothing that signaled his emergence this season. He’s obviously made an enormous leap, the kind which often merits promotion.

Walker last season was called up several times to AHL Toronto, but did not play in a game.