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Growing Up Fast

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers defensive prospect Keaton Ellerby spent 3+ seasons with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL before being traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors this season.

Keaton Ellerby will admit that, when faced with adversity during his last season in junior hockey, he grew as a person.

The trick now is to develop physically as a player.

Ellerby, the Panthers’ No. 1 selection (10th overall) in the 2007 Entry Draft, is spending a week in South Florida working out with strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien in an attempt to move forward in his development.

And according to Duane Sutter, the Panthers’ director of player development, the next step for Ellerby is rather simple. “Keaton has to get physically stronger and bigger,” he said.

For Ellerby, that’s no easy task. The defenseman has always had trouble adding mass to his 6-4, 190-pound frame. “That’s why I’m here,” said Ellerby. “I’ve gained a little bit, but I’m still working on it. It’s something I’ll have to work on my whole career. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s definitely something I have to work on.”

“It’s a combination of things,” he added. “It’s everything from eating right, lifting, taking the right supplements and vitamins. It’s all of that.”

Ellerby was ranked as the No. 4 North American skater by Central Scouting going into the 2007 Entry Draft after completing his third season with Kamloops in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Praised as a “good skater with great mobility…who handles the puck well,” by Central Scouting, Ellerby also had family roots in the NHL.

But Ellerby experienced a rollercoaster of emotions during his final season in juniors.

After participating over the summer in the Canada/Russia Super Series, Ellerby arrived for his fourth season in Kamloops. But Ellerby got off to a slow start with the last-place Blazers and in September was dealt to Moose Jaw.

In the span of a few months, Ellerby had gone from being a No. 1 draft pick, to going to his first NHL camp, to competing in an international tournament, to playing for and then being traded from a last place team.

“Not many kids my age get tossed around like that,” Ellerby said. “So you kind of grow up a little faster than most 18 or 19 years olds. You see things and learn things that, like I said, most kids my age wouldn’t have the opportunity to see.”

Sutter believes part of Ellerby’s problem at the start of last year could have been the hangover suffered by many young players who played in the Canada/Russia Super Series.

“When they were finished, a lot of them were rushed within 48 hours to NHL training camps,” Sutter said. “At some point, we thought they’d experience a downward point. But Keaton did have a tough start and couldn’t get it going.”

Ironically, Ellerby’s cousin, Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, is a part owner of the Kamloops Blazers. “I was talking to Shane, actually, quite a bit during that time,” Ellerby said. “He kind of wanted me out of there as much as anybody. He was happy when the ownership group found a place like Moose Jaw to give me an opportunity to play and develop.”

Fortunately, the trade to Moose Jaw was a positive for Ellerby, who ended the season with 26 points and playing at times alongside friend and San Jose’s No. 1 draft pick Ty Wishart.

“Getting traded is never really fun,” Ellerby said. “But once I got to Moose Jaw, it was the best thing that had happened to me so far in my junior career. I loved it out there and they treated me awesome. I think I had a better season in Moose Jaw than I would have had in Kamloops.

“Moose Jaw gave me a fresh starts and the opportunity I never would have saw in Kamloops. They gave me my confidence back and let me enjoy the game. I played in all different situations in Moose Jaw. They had a younger back end there so they kind of looked at me for leadership and to take charge a bit.”

Looking back, Ellerby said he has learned a lot over the past 10 months. “I think when you face adversity you see what of person, what kind of player, you are,” he said. “If you can overcome it then it obviously shows you’re a strong person and it looks good on your part.”

Ellerby said his goal over the summer will be to “pound away” at the exercise and nutrition program he gets from O’Brien and “do anything to help myself make the jump to playing for the Panthers next year.”
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