Like his defensive partner Mattias Ekholm, 24-year-old Ryan Ellis took a large step forward in his development in 2014-15, and established himself as a valuable asset in the Nashville Predators defensive corps.
Ellis has been heralded as a dynamic offensive threat from the blue line since his days with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League beginning in 2007, but until this most recent campaign, he hadn’t proven to be a reliable player in all three zones. Consider it partially the benefit of playing under Peter Laviolette’s attack plan that encourages D-men to frequently join in on offense, further development of his chemistry with Ekholm and simple maturity gained as he nears his prime, but in short, 2014-15 may serve as a turning point in Ellis’ career.
Even when a lower-body injury forced Ellis to miss 24 contests, No. 4 was still able to tie his career high in points (27) and set a new mark in goals scored (9). Considering the near-the-top-of-the-NHL possession stats boasted by Ellis and Ekholm for a large portion of the season, it’s quite reasonable to assume the pair will again be a dominant force during the next campaign.
Signed for the next several seasons, Ellis will begin 2015-16 as a Top 4 defender seeking to add even more minutes and increased special teams’ contributions.
- Ellis may be the smartest player on the current roster. He makes the percentage play in most every case and is a playmaker to be sure. These attributes show through the brightest while the blueliner is “quarterbacking" the second power-play unit.
- Remarkably, for a smaller athlete playing defense - a position where size is typically preferred - Ellis has learned to out-think his opponent. The 24-year-old holds the middle ice well in his own zone and wins more than his share of puck battles.
- Ellis and defense partner Mattias Ekholm were a terrific surprise this year in terms of how early and well they established themselves as a strong second pairing behind Roman Josi and Shea Weber. This tandem was clearly an important part of the Predators turnaround in the 2014-15 season.
Ellis fades a little closer to the cage before taking a feed from Mike Ribeiro and blasting a one-timer high over the glove of the Kings Jonathan Quick.
According to No. 4:
- The defenseman has two Labradors named Molly and Max.
- Ellis calls Gladiator his favorite movie, BrickTops his favorite Nashville Restaurant and the University of Oregon’s black football jerseys as his favorite non-hockey uniform.
- Of any venue No. 4 would most like to play a game at, he would choose Wembley Stadium in London, England.
By the Numbers:
- 200 - Ellis played his 200th NHL contest this season on April 7 at Colorado, all of which have been played with the Preds.
- 27 - The defenseman tied his career high in points this season (27) by potting nine goals and 18 assists in only 58 games played.
- 3 - The Hamilton, Ontario, native dished out three helpers during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, his second career appearance in the postseason.
Ellis and Ekholm rose quickly from the the Preds bottom defensive pairing into the Top 4 in large part because Laviolette knew he could rely on them to shut down an opponent’s top players while also contributing on offense. Early in December, the unit talked about some of the reasons they believed 2014-15 was a turnaround season for both them and the team as a whole.
“I think we’ve added minutes because we’ve been stronger defensively,” Ellis said of his pairing with Ekholm. “We’re starting to prove ourselves and earn the trust that everyone wants. Especially protecting in our own end, we know that’s our No. 1 job. We try to contribute offensively whenever too. The added experience each game and that adjustment has helped earn the trust of the coaches.”
First-year Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette has complimented the pair especially over the last few games, but perhaps more telling has been the ice time with which he’s rewarded Ekholm and Ellis. And with the streak of defensive success displayed by the pair, it only makes sense.
“Like [Ellis and Ekholm have done], any time you can make an impact 5-on-5 and on the special teams then you’re really helping your team,” Laviolette said.
Maybe soon the two will admit it’s a lot more than luck that’s given them a strong season to date.
“I don’t want to jinx us our anything, but the chemistry we’ve found and a focus on defense has really helped us this year,” Ekholm said. “If we keep working on our game every day and talking to each other as we practice, we know that we can still be even more comfortable and successful. We want to be out on the ice against the opponent’s first line even more than we already are.”
Surrounded by waving towels and passionate school-aged children, Ellis and Seth Jones help launch the Future Goals Program at Lighthouse Christian School:
In the concluding chapter of Teammate Trivia, Ellis and fellow defenseman Seth Jones take on Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher in a hockey-style version of The Newlywed Game:
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