Any time a player establishes new career highs in goals, assists and points for a season, the reviews are going to be positive.
That’s very much the case for Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, who topped all three of his highest offensive totals set across four previous seasons when he notched 10 goals, 22 assists and 32 points during 79 games in 2015-16.
According to Preds Assistant Coach Phil Housley, Ellis also added more consistency to his game during the previous campaign - something seemingly every hockey player is always trying to do. Signed to a deal through the 2018-19 season, with a cap hit of $2.5 million, the 25-year-old should receive even more ice time in 2016-17, after logging a career-high average of 20:54 last season. More responsibility given to a defenseman, as evidenced through more minutes, is often a clear indicator of a coach’s rising confidence in a player.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s playing in all situations,” Housley said of Ellis. “Power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5. Playing against the other team’s best lines at times. He is another player where his development is just going to get better. He is one of our most consistent defensemen game in and game out. From two years ago until now, his development has gone in a great direction.”
A first-round selection of Nashville in 2009, Ellis also had a strong showing in the Predators deepest postseason run to date, including dishing out six helpers and making a dramatic goal-line stop in a Game One victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
The defender has rounded out his game during parts of five seasons and has moved from a fringe contributor on the Predators defensive corps to an unquestioned member of the Top Four. With the addition of P.K. Subban, Housley and Head Coach Peter Laviolette will have options when constructing the D pairings this fall. Laviolette said earlier this summer not to assume Subban will automatically skate with Roman Josi, meaning the Preds could employ a more balanced approach in icing their Top Four. Ellis might pair with Josi, placing Mattias Ekholm with Subban; or Ellis could be alongside Ekholm again - a spot he predominately claimed during 2015-16.
With Ellis’s usage continuing to rise, the Preds coaching staff wants to see more offensive production for him, even with him now playing minutes against tougher competition. Wielding likely the hardest shot on the team, a few well-timed blasts by Ellis could be just what the doctor ordered.
“Would we want him to be more offensive in his production? Yes,” Housley said. “I think that’s going to come over time. He uses his size to leverage guys and be smart. He has great hockey sense, poise and all the things you want in a defenseman. Just a great competitor. His future looks great.”
The 2016-17 campaign will represent another prime opportunity for Ellis to best all of his previous career highs again, and at the very least, present a chance for the legend of his massive beard to grow.