After a distinguished four-year major junior career in which he put his name in the conversation of all-time best Ontario Hockey League defenceman while earning just about every award imaginable, 20-year old blueliner Ryan Ellis only took a brief rest this past summer before resuming his training program. This week, Ellis continues his journey to the NHL in the Nashville Predators’ pre-season camp, with an outside shot at earning a roster spot.
“I took a week and a bit off after playing in the ‘A’ (AHL),” Ellis said this past May at the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Awards Ceremony. “Just kind of relaxed, went up to the cottage and I just started my training regimen in the summer and I’m looking forward to a little time off as well as off-season training.”
The 2009 first-round draft choice reached new personal summits in 2010-11 with the Windsor Spitfires when he was named the OHL Mickey Renaud Captain’s Award winner, top defenceman in the OHL, CHL and World Junior Championship, player of the year in both the OHL and CHL, and an OHL and World Junior Championship All Star. He finished with 313 career points, third highest among all OHL defencemen in history. He also captained Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, winning a second consecutive silver medal to go with the gold he won in 2009.
Ellis paused to consider his accomplishments and place in major junior history.
“I talked to my old coach Bob Boughner yesterday. I think it’s just icing on the cake. We had a great season this year and we went a lot further than a lot of people expected. I think, just personally for myself, after four years in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires, these two awards are just something on the top and I’m very honoured to get them.”
He was humbled to have his name etched on the CHL Defenceman of the Year Award noting “the pretty big names on that list. I think to be in the company of not just those defencemen but the other players that have won it in previous years is very exciting. I think going on to pro hockey next year, it’s kind of, like I said, just icing on the cake to sum it all up.”
Ellis gave credit to his first high school hockey coach, Paul Hanley, of the Waterdown District High School Warriors, for motivating him to always give his best effort.
“It’s to always care and to always have the drive to win. Obviously high school hockey at the time was just kind of more fun for me than anything serious but he always promoted everyone coming with their ‘A’ game and wanting to win, no matter if it was high school, house league, OHL, NHL. I think that was the biggest thing – always wanting to win, just having that drive at every aspect of any level is key.”
After Windsor’s drive for three straight Memorial Cups ended in the third round of the OHL playoffs in late April, Ellis signed an amateur try-out contract with the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate. In his first seven professional playoff games, Ellis scored a goal and an assist.
“It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun there and I did pretty well for myself. It was a different experience. I wasn’t used to joining a team at the end of a year. It was definitely a big step there. I think going there in the thick of the playoffs and getting used to playoff speed was a great start for me in pro hockey,” Ellis reflected, reviewing his cup of coffee in Milwaukee. ”Everyone treated me very well. I played a lot more than I expected to. I played some key spots which I think was pretty exciting,” he continued, perhaps referring to his goal on the power play in Game 6 of the West Division Final against Houston.
Ellis stated that the biggest lesson he learned in Milwaukee was “just the fact that you must get bigger and stronger for the jump to the AHL or the NHL.” Just 5’10″ and 179 lbs., scouts have often been skeptical about his viability as an NHL-calibre defenceman. He chuckled when the topic of his small size came up again. ”No, I think I’m over that. I still get those questions once in a while but I’m so far past anything like that. I’m more confident and things like that aren’t even in my rear view anymore.”
In his third pre-season camp with Nashville, Ellis has hopes of joining Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the Preds’ blue line but remains even-keeled and would not view a return trip to Milwaukee as a disappointment. ”I think the AHL is a great way to earn your way to an NHL team. I think if that’s in the cards for me, then I’ll relish in that role and go there, try to do my best and hopefully work my way to pro hockey.”
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch