A year ago, Ryan Ellis
was another young defenseman looking to make a name for himself in the Ontario Hockey League.
That was then. Today, all the scouts and NHL personnel people know exactly who the Windsor Spitfires blueliner is.
"If you really think about it, last Christmas I was playing Under-17s as a 16-year-old, trying to win that tournament," Ellis told NHL.com of his stint with Team Ontario at the 2008 World Under-17 Championship. "It's a little surreal thinking about the last year of my life and what I've been through, but it's been a lot of fun and quite a journey."
Since winning gold at the U-17 tournament in January 2008, Ellis won gold playing for Canada in April at the World Under-18 Championship, in August at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka
Tournament and in January at the World Junior Championship.
He added to his trophy haul Sunday by helping his OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires, win the Memorial Cup. Ellis had 3 goals in six games as the Spitfires became the first team in tournament history to win the title after losing its first two games. Ellis started their four-game win streak to the crown by scoring the winning goal in round-robin play against the Kelowna Rockets. Ellis also had a goal in championship game, a 4-1 victory against the Rockets.
Ellis was a surprise addition to Canada's WJC roster, and as the tournament went on, his role evolved from power-play specialist to being on the ice in the crucial moments, and making maybe the most important play in Canada's run to the gold. It was Ellis who held the puck in at the blue line, which led to Jordan Eberle
's game-tying goal with 5.7 seconds left in regulation in their semifinal game with Russia.
"It's a little confidence builder (being out at an important time)," said Ellis. "I think they needed offense and I'm an offensive guy. I think I fit that role. It adds a little confidence, knowing they were putting me out there for that fact and trying to get that goal."
He finished with 7 points in six games, fourth among all defensemen in the tournament, despite being one of just two 17-year-olds for Canada on a tournament geared toward 19-year-olds.
He didn't have a lot of time to relish the World Juniors victory, as he was invited to the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game in mid-January. Playing with the best of the best of Draft-eligible players in the Canadian Hockey League, he had an assist on the game's opening goal and finished a plus-3.
That kind of success has been a constant for Ellis this season. He had 48 points in his first 30 OHL games to spend the first half of the season in the top three in league scoring in a bid to become just the second defenseman in the last 63 years to lead the league in scoring. Missing games due to the World Juniors and the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game knocked him off his torrid early pace, but he finished seventh in the league -- and first among defensemen -- with 89 points in 57 games. He had a 15-game scoring streak, the longest in the league by a defenseman, another 10-game streak, and his plus-52 was second in the league.
He was even better in the playoffs, leading all blueliners and finishing tied for fourth with 31 points in 20 games. He also was a finalist for Canadian Hockey League defenseman of the year, and was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team.
The accolades keep coming, as NHL Central Scouting ranked him No. 16 among North American skaters -- and fifth among defensemen -- when it released its final rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft.
"Ellis just keeps producing," said Central Scouting's Chris Edwards. "He has always played with confidence. He is a highly skilled guy with great puck-handling ability. He has proven that he can do this at the next level (World Juniors). He was used in a specific role most of the tournament and he excelled at it."
The only knock on Ellis seems to be his size -- he's listed at 5-foot-9 1/4 and 183 pounds -- but one of the greatest defenseman in NHL history said after watching Ellis, his size shouldn't be an issue.
"For those people who think because you're small you can't play in this game," said Bobby Orr
, who coached Ellis at the Top Prospects Game, "he's not very big, but you'll see … he's a heck of a hockey player."
Ellis beamed when Orr's words were relayed to him.
"Anytime you have someone like that saying something special about you, it's pretty cool," said Ellis. "I think it's great what he's saying. I appreciate all the kind things he has to say about me. … It's great knowing I have someone like that to back me up and know that I have a chance. He sees potential in me and that's great to know."
"For those people who think because you're small you can't play in this game, he's not very big, but you'll see … he's a heck of a hockey player." -- Bobby Orr
Orr isn't the only one.
"I've only been in the league three years," Windsor coach Bob Boughner told NHL.com, "and other coaches I talk to, they've never seen a defenseman have an impact in a junior game like Ryan Ellis
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.