|Photo by: Nashville Predators|
In 2009, the Nashville Predators selected defenseman Ryan Ellis 11th overall. Playing in the Ontario Hockey League for the Windsor Spitfires, Ellis turned heads winning every conceivable award possible for a defenseman in ‘the O’.
In his final season with the Spitfires, Ellis showed out posting 101 points (24g, 77a) in 58 regular season games. At this point, it was firmly established he was going to be a premier offensive defenseman in the National Hockey League in only a few years.
Since becoming a professional, Ellis has been up-and-down between the Predators in the NHL and their minor league affiliate Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. The 22 year old has been good in the American League, but has yet to prove himself in the NHL.
In 64 NHL games, Ellis has five goals, twelve assists and a +3 goal differential.
Head coach Barry Trotz has given the Freelton, Ontario native multiple chances to stay with Nashville, but Ellis has not adjusted properly to the big league game.
At 5’10, 180lbs, Ellis is the smallest defenseman in the organization and one of the smallest in the NHL. Being a small defenseman in a physical league, especially during the playoffs, doesn’t help Ellis’ cause. He isn’t afraid to return the physicality, as seen when he flipped Wayne Simmonds on January 15, 2012.
With other defensemen like Victor Bartley, Jonathon Blum—who is an RFA this summer—and Mattias Ekholm developing alongside with Ryan in Milwaukee, he is slowly being surpassed. Instead of recalling Ellis towards the end of the season during Nashville’s injury problems, it was Bartley and Ekholm who stepped in.
Ellis saw NHL ice time only once in the last seventeen games of the season.
General Manager David Poile made a smart move on May 21 adding Phil Housley as an assistant coach. Housley’s job will be to work with the defensemen, which should help Ellis’ development. If the USA Hockey and IIHF hall of famer guides him down the right path and Ellis follows, fans could see the number four back on the ice at Bridgestone Arena.
However, if things turn sour and Ellis doesn’t properly develop, changes will have to be made with him. In the 2013-14 season, he is expected to make $1,440,000 at the NHL level. That is not small money for a team who historically does not like to spend a lot.
Poile will have to make a decision to either trade him, wait until his contract expires, or propose an adjustment.
Take a look at the San Jose Sharks. Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan boldly moved defenseman Brent Burns at the forward position. The move worked out and Burns became a top six forward playing alongside Joe Thornton during the playoffs.
If it worked in San Jose, it can work in Nashville.
Given Burns and Ellis would play quite different as a forward—since Burns is 6’5” and Ellis is seven inches shorter—but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work out. Ellis is an offensively minded player, who could help out with the Predators’ scoring issues. Then when a power play opportunity arrives, Trotz could easily slot Ellis at the point so he could continue quarterbacking man advantages, which is something he does so well.
Time will tell what Poile, Trotz and the Preds will do. It is not helping anyone when Ellis is playing in the AHL. The longer he plays in the minors, his value will decrease.
Ellis will look to make the team after training camp, which starts September 11.