Ryan Suter's departure for the Minnesota Wild leaves a gaping hole on the Nashville Predators' blue line, and the team will attempt to fill it internally.
All indications are that Roman Josi will get the first crack at skating alongside captain Shea Weber, but it is also possible the job will one day belong to Ryan Ellis.
The 21-year-old got his first taste of the NHL last season, when he tallied three goals and eight assists in 32 games after 18 points in 29 American Hockey League contests prompted a promotion from Milwaukee. Ellis also appeared in three Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Predators, who were ousted in the second round by the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I was able to play in a handful of games," Ellis told NHL.com. "It was nice to kind of get my feet wet and see what it's all about. The season ended before we wanted it to, but it was nice to get that experience. I'm looking forward to having a strong camp and contributing more."
He may not receive as many minutes as Suter did last season (Suter led the Predators by averaging 26:30 per game), but Ellis -- who averaged less than 15 minutes per contest -- will have to shoulder more of the load. He's certainly capable in the offensive end when you consider the Hamilton, Ontario, native scored 101 points (24 goals, 77 assists) in 58 games for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League in 2010-11, his final season of junior hockey. He was named Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year and CHL Defenseman of the Year.
"I think everyone is going to have to chip in more," Ellis told NHL.com when asked about potentially filling the void left by Suter's departure. "It's going to have to be done by committee. He's such a great player that we're all going to have to step it up."
Ellis' booming shot from the point and his ability to quarterback the power play will serve the Predators well in 2012-13. Though it would be a thrill to be able skate alongside Weber, he and Ellis shoot right-handed. It's more likely Ellis will be paired with veteran Hal Gill, who signed a two-year contract in late June.
"It would be awesome (to play with Weber), but since we're both right-handed, one of us would have to play the left side," Ellis said. "I'm just glad he's coming back because he's a world-class player. A guy like that is crucial to our success."
Ellis also will be crucial to Nashville's success this season. One positive he can take from last season is that he already has some experience skating alongside Gill.
"We obviously play two different styles of games," Ellis told the team's website of the 37-year-old when they were paired late last season. "He obviously deals one way with the speedy guys and I have to deal another way with the bigger guys. We've talked about a few different things and just how to kind of push guys off balance and whatnot, which is kind of big for me to kind of win those battles."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor