Tyler Eckford tries to keep the puck away against Krys Barch of the Dallas Stars during a 2009 NHL game. Eckford signed a free agent deal with the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.

Tyler Eckford tries to keep the puck away against Krys Barch of the Dallas Stars during a 2009 NHL game. Eckford signed a free agent deal with the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.

Eckford inks with Coyotes

Free agent defenceman hopes Phoenix is the right fit

Tyler Eckford is hoping to land in the desert.

The 25-year-old free agent defenceman signed a one-year two-way contract with the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday.

If he cracks the NHL line-up, he will earn $525,000, but if he plays in the American Hockey League, his contract is for $105,000.

“I think there is a good opportunity for me to play in the NHL there,” Eckford said, adding that a few teams expressed interest in inking the offensive minded blue-liner.

“I am definitely excited and from talking to (Phoenix), it seems like they want me there.

“It is a good fit.”

He joined the Coyotes organization after consulting with his agent and family and deciding this was the best fit.

Phoenix’s AHL affiliate is the Portland Pirates.

Eckford, who played with the Langley Minor Hockey Association and then junior with the Surrey Eagles, was a seventh round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2004 NHL entry draft.

Following a stellar collegiate career with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks — which included winning the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s top offensive defenceman award — he signed with the Devils organization.

He has spent the bulk of the past three years at the AHL level, and has also played seven NHL games, registering one point.

In his first two pro seasons with the Lowell Devils, Eckford scored 10 goals and 47 assists and made the AHL all-star game in his second season.

But last year saw Eckford limited to half a season of play, and his production dipped to a dozen points.

He did thank New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello, the man who drafted him, for the opportunity the organization provided.

“I can’t thank them enough for everything that organization has done for me,” Eckford said.

“I just think it time to start fresh and move on.”

Phoenix has seven defencemen under contract for next season, so unless Eckford displaces one of those ahead of him on the depth chart, he will likely begin in the AHL and work for his opportunity.

Having his decision out of the way has put Eckford at ease.

“It is definitely more relaxing,” he said. “Now I can just focus on getting into the best shape I can and get ready for September.”

Eckford will spend the summer in Langley working out.

“Anytime a team wants you and they are positive and excited to have you, it makes you excited,” he said.

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