Ryan Ellis will be as critical to the Predators success as the guys in this picture. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)
When Ryan Ellis was drafted, the times were a bit different. In 2009, the Predators missed the playoffs, and saw their best season a few years earlier come at the hands of smaller, skilled players who passed well. In 2010, Nashville was ousted from the playoffs by a Blackhawks team that drafted well, drafted big, and drafted earlier. Since then, Nashville has drafted bigger players as a way of saying “never again” (which this lesson, some would argue, should’ve been learned at the hands of the Sharks and their demolition of the Predators in consecutive seasons).
But in 2009, the brass felt that the talents of Ryan Ellis were too good to pass up. Given the departure of one Ryan Suter, Predator fans hope their front office’s stellar draft record is proven again.
Last season, Ellis was called up from Milwaukee about halfway through the year, due in large part of Jonathon Blum’s inconsistency. While not as smooth and polished as Roman Josi, the Hamilton native didn’t embarrass himself. In fact, for a player his size he managed to contribute some down the stretch and showed off his shot. It’s not the power, velocity, ferocity, or near as angry as that of Shea Weber’s… but it’s something.
And for the record, that was a game winner against a divisional rival in the playoff chase. Not bad huh?
Ellis has always had pressure, obstacles, and spotlight. He was on Memorial Cup and World Junior Championship teams. He was named captain for both Windsor and Canada’s Junior Team. So far, he’s handled the pressure well. He’s widely known as one of the smartest players on the ice…
…but, he is small. For the time being, he’s likely to be paired with Hal Gill, who after signing a two year extension, for the immediate future. Gill isn’t the quickest car at the dealership, but he knows his job. This will mean that Ellis will need to know his, and not put his partner in compromising situations.
In the playoffs, with Francis Boullion healthy, Ellis was scratched in all but three postseason games. While Barry Trotz and the coaching staff don’t have the luxury of relying on the older Boullion to have as a safety net this year, Ellis’s strength has always been his wit.
Young William Wallace: “I can fight!”
Malcolm Wallace: “I know. I know you can fight… But it’s our wits that make us men.”
Having all that in the open, here’s a checklist:
Ryan Ellis will be successful if:
Hal Gill is healthy. The man is a workhorse, who does the thankless job of blocking shots, bulldozing folks out of Rinne’s path, and not losing his cool. Talented? Yes. Very talented? At some things. Fast? No. But that’s okay. He’s Hal Gill. He’s not paid to be fast.
Ellis doesn’t mess things up with Hal Gill. Last season we saw a fairly reckless combination of Blum and Kevin Klein being abused for most of the first part of the season. Given the shorter schedule, that cannot happen this year if this team is going to play into June.
If Klein finds good chemistry with either Blum or Hannan. The Predators will have their best third pairing in years this season, but don’t want to see them becoming the second pairing. As of the end of last season, Gill and Ellis were better at their special teams jobs. Unless some drastic changes happened, I’d be willing to bet that the staff wants Gill fresh for the postseason, which means this pairing with Ellis needs to be the third pairing. The Kings won using three functional pairs, including Alec Martinez and Matt Greene. This is a more talented version of that pairing.
Speaking of, that power play can’t miss a beat this year. Ellis will be expected to pick up some of Ryan Suter’s slack. Sounds fun? No?
Can Ryan Ellis handle this load? This is a different challenge for him than he’s ever faced before. Usually, he’s picked to lead the team, be heady, and be in good position for a shot. On this team, he’ll be paired with someone who plays a completely different game that anyone he’s ever been paired with for a season. It needs to work for this team to be as successful as last year, or better.