Andrei Kostitsyn found out just how tough Keaton Ellerby is last Wednesday night.
Ellerby, the Florida Panthers' first-round draft choice in 2007, consistently uses his large frame (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) to his advantage, and it was no different at the Bell Centre last week when Ellerby laid a thunderous hit on the Montreal Canadiens' winger.
With just over four minutes remaining in the first period, Ellerby caught Kostitsyn with his head down along the boards in the Panthers' zone and knocked the latter to the ice. While the Canadiens went on to win the game by a 3-2 score, there's little doubt Kostitsyn will be more cautious the next time Montreal faces Florida.
Ellerby has picked up his offensive game as of late, as he entered Tuesday's action with points in three of his last five games. In 26 games this season, the Strathmore, Alberta native has a goal, six assists and a plus-4 rating.
The 22-year-old is part of one of the youngest defensive pairings in the League, as Panthers coach Peter DeBoer has elected to have Ellerby skate with 20-year-old Dmitry Kulikov. So far, the coach likes what he sees.
"We really like these two together … look at their age," DeBoer said. "We're throwing them into a lot of situations and giving them a lot of responsibility. They're handling it. That's a good sign."
Ellerby has split time this season between Florida and AHL Rochester, where he had a goal and two assists in 14 games. There's a chance he'll be returned to the minors once Bryan McCabe returns from injury, but for now, Ellerby is relishing every moment.
He also hopes his coach won't change up the defensive pairings.
"I think we've been playing good together," Ellerby said. "Hopefully that continues so the coaches keep us together for a long time."