Sep 15, 2013
At 22, it would be beyond unfair to refer to Ryan Ellis as a “bust”.
However, his career has not yet had the rapid trajectory that many anticipated. Drafted in the first round, eleventh overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, Ellis came into the organization with high expectations.
Those expectations only grew when Ellis’ performance in juniors went from solid to extraordinary. When his junior career finally ended, Ellis had won two Memorial Cups, the CHL’s player of the year award and was the all-time leading scorer among defensemen in the history of the World Juniors tournament.
Ellis attended Nashville’s training camp in 2009 and 2010, but was returned to his junior team, the Windsor Spitfires, each time.
In 2011, Ellis again did not make the team out of camp and started the year with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. Finally, on December 26 of that year, Ellis was called up and made his NHL debut.
However, Ellis has not been able to stick in the big leagues. Last season, Ellis racked up all sorts of frequent flyer miles shuttling back and forth between Nashville and Milwaukee before finally landing with the Admirals for good during the last month of the season. In Nashville’s 48-game 2012-13 season, Ellis appeared in just 32 games.
For a player who had at a time been considered Nashville’s top prospect, Ellis’ slow start has become concerning to some. After fellow defensive prospect (and 2007 first round selection) Jonathon Blum was shown the door at the end of the season without so much as a contract offer, many began to wonder if Ellis would be the next project that Nashville would abandon.
However, while Blum’s work ethic was at times chided by the organization, Ellis has never been accused by anyone in the Predators organization of being complacent or lackadaisical. Ellis, too, is aware that he is not a sure-fire shot to make the roster.
“Every year you come in and you have to work hard,” Ellis said. “Obviously, the last couple of years I’ve come in and worked hard but things have not gone my way. This year I just have to keep my hopes up and keep working. I think hard work gets you through a lot of your tough times.”
The number of roster spots with the Predators has dwindled in the past year. Nashville drafted Seth Jones this year and Victor Bartley appears to have cemented his full-time spot on the roster. That leaves one defensive spot on the team for Ellis to compete with a much-improved Mattias Ekholm for.
Ellis says that the competition between he, Ekholm and the other defensemen for that final roster position will ultimately benefit the Predators, if it does not benefit himself.
“It’s all ramped up,” Ellis said. “Guys know they have to try at every shift and every practice. It’s always going to be good for the team. If one guy is not going, there’s always going to be another guy to take his spot.”
He may find himself on Milwaukee’s roster on opening night, but Ellis understands the game that Nashville is trying to play.
Will Nashville give up on Ryan Ellis if he does not crack the roster this season? Probably not. Unlike Blum and other Nolan Yonkman-sized projects Nashville has given up on, Ellis has the desire and the work-ethic to develop into an NHL defenseman. Add the fact that Ellis is only 22 – Taylor Beck was in his draft class and did not make his NHL debut until the end of last season. What happened to Jonathon Blum should not affect what happens to Ryan Ellis. Blum’s case was independent of Ellis’. In Ryan Ellis’ case, as long as he is able to do the work, Nashville is likely to stick with him.
Ellis would not be the first Predator to take a little longer to come to a boil. For inspiration, he need look no further than fellow Predators defenseman Kevin Klein, who lingered in Milwaukee for four years before finally earning a full-time NHL spot.
“We play hard – that’s the way we do it. Night-in and night-out, it’s just hard work,” Ellis said.
“We’re not going to scare a team to death, but we will outwork them.”
Known mostly for his (potential) offensive prowess, Ellis has an extremely high defensive upside – he is a defenseman, after all. In Nashville’s early season loss to Minnesota, Ellis displayed his defensive awareness by preventing this Wild goal.
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not include this massive hit on Wayne Simmonds from 2012.
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua