Over the next three months, Ryan Ellis will enjoy some well-deserved relaxation at his Ontario home. He’ll begin training for the upcoming NHL season and focus on completing the summertime demands required to compete at the highest level when autumn eventually returns. There may even be some time for birdies and pars – preferably not bogeys.
But removing the instantly recognizable, ginger whiskers that complete the Nashville Predators defenseman’s epic beard? That may not make the agenda.
“I’ll probably just let it go and see how long it gets until next season, and if I look like a goof, I’ll have to get rid of some,” Ellis said last week.
Whatever the summer holds, there will be plenty to reflect on for the blueliner, who enjoyed a career year with the Preds in both the regular and postseason, all before winning gold with Canada at the 2016 World Championship at the end of May.
Ellis tallied 10 goals, 22 assists and 32 points, all career highs, in 2016-17, prior to adding six more assists through 14 Stanley Cup Playoff contests. Half of what has now become Nashville’s go-to second pair on defense, along with Mattias Ekholm, Ellis continues to solidify his role as part of arguably the top defensive corps in the League.
The two D-partners faced off against one another in the World Championship last month, with the Canadians getting the best of Ekholm and the Swedes. Days later, Ekholm was named to Sweden’s World Cup of Hockey roster, an accolade Ellis couldn’t help but celebrate.
“I think I’m just as excited for him as he is,” Ellis said of Ekholm. “Playing in the World Championship, I think it put him in a good light with their Swedish team and it was a big step for him. He played very well, so it was good to see him get that kind of credit and get the next step in his career.”
The two are likely to join forces once again in October as the Preds set out for the 18th season in club history. A Game Seven loss to the San Jose Sharks in Round Two of the Playoffs marked the furthest Nashville has ever been in the postseason, events Ellis believes will continue to build on the success the Preds have seen over the past two campaigns.
“Ultimately, we have one goal in mind and that’s to win the Stanley Cup. We couldn’t accomplish it this year, but what we gained in experience can only benefit our team and our young group,” Ellis said. “Going forward, you don’t want to lose, and not in the fashion that we did, but it just adds experience and hopefully grows to our core group. Hopefully next year, we can take that experience and gain from it and move forward.
“I think it’s very important to go through those trials and tribulations. The Chicago series [in 2015], I think really built what we did this year. Facing four elimination games and being successful in three of them, I think that shows the maturity of the group and the previous playoffs really helped us develop that.”
Ellis knows there’s a balance to be found between starting fresh and keeping the past in the back of his mind, something he’ll bring with him to training camp in September. And with the majority of players set to return from the previous season, Ellis believes the core will only continue to develop and grow as one cohesive unit, something that is already providing an itch to get back.
“I know I’m very excited for next season,” Ellis said. “It’s a tough way to lose the way it did end, and then to have to watch the team we lost to compete in the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row now, it’s frustrating. But like I said, it can only help our group, and hopefully we can turn into a team that moves forward and moves deeper into the playoffs every year.”