Ryan Ellis isn't Shea Weber.
But without the defenseman's contributions, the Nashville Predators wouldn't have been able to overcome trading Weber to the Montreal Canadiens or, going back to last season, Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They might not be battling for third place in the Central Division.
The Predators hold the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference as they prepare for games against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday (2 p.m. ET; FS-TN, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV) and at the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
[Related: Predators holding second wild card spot in West]
They are two points point behind the Blues for third place in the Central Division and three points out of the first wild card held by the Calgary Flames.
"Shea was one of those guys you could just rely on," said Roman Josi, Ellis' defense partner. "Ryan is similar."
Although P.K. Subban, Weber's replacement in Nashville after they were traded for each other June 29, was an All-Star this season, and Josi, Weber's former partner, could have been, a case can be made that Ellis is the key to the Predators blue line.
Ellis has seven points (three goals, four assists) in the past seven games and NHL career highs in goals (15) and points (37) in 67 games this season. He is averaging 0.55 points per game. You know who is also averaging 0.55 points per game this season? Weber.
In addition, like Weber, Ellis is a shooter from the point on the power play. He plays opposite Subban, who also is a shooter but one of Nashville's key distributors from up top. Ellis has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) on the power play.
Ellis' ice time is up by more than three minutes per game, from 20:53 last season to 24:03 this season. He's playing 1:10 more on the penalty kill (2:38 this season, 1:28 last season). Weber played 2:50 per game on the penalty kill last season.
"I guess I took over a little bit of Shea's role, but everyone does their part," Ellis said. "For the most part we've done a fairly good job at it and hopefully we can continue here."
Video: CGY@NSH: Ellis keeps puck in zone, nets wrister
The assumption at the start of the season was that Josi would play with Subban and Ellis would play with Mattias Ekholm. The reasoning: Josi and Weber were good together and it would be natural to put Weber's replacement on the top pair with Josi while keeping Ellis with Ekholm; they were partners last season.
Instead it's been Ellis with Josi. Why has it worked?
"He's extremely smart, makes the right decision, and whenever there is a chance to join the rush or get a shot he makes the right decision and picks the right spots," Josi said of Ellis. "He's obviously got a great shot too, a great release and a great one-timer. We both want to join the rush. We try to read off of each other."
Ellis has had to play conservatively at times to allow Josi to skate and join the rush uninhibited, but the same can be said for Josi.
"They're excellent defensively, both of them," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Good defense in our end starts the good breakouts and good neutral-zone counters and that puts them in the offensive zone. They're smart with their decision making. They're not reckless. That makes them responsible offensive players."
Ellis also has a theory as to why he and Josi have worked so well together.
"[Josi] loves to have the puck and skate the puck, so for me it's more or less get it to him, let him do his thing and get open again," Ellis said. "He has such great vision and he is a great passer, a great sharer of the puck, so if you're open and available he'll find you. For me, it's get open for my shot, use that as much as I can."
That Ellis has made it work with Josi has allowed Laviolette to preserve the pairing of Subban and Ekholm, which is big considering they've been excellent too.
Subban and Ekholm are Nashville's top two defensemen in shot-attempts percentage (SAT) overall (55.35 and 53.82) and in close games (55.03, 53.49) even though each has started more shifts in the defensive zone than in the offensive zone.
"There have been lots of questions this year about why Roman and P.K. aren't playing together," Laviolette said. "It's because P.K. and [Ekholm] have some of the best analytical numbers in the business and they're two big horses that can take down big guys.
"We've really liked the pairings."