No longer the defensive liability or only the “offensive specialist” he was once labeled, Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis took a huge step forward this year.
Essentially completing his first “full” season in the NHL, Ellis first logged 32 games in the 2011-2012 season and again in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, before skating in 80 this most recent campaign.
Obviously, that kind of increase in ice time for the 23-year-old blueliner should have equated into a boost in just about all of his stats–and it did–but outside of that, Ellis passed the “eye test” this year while on the way to becoming an asset within the Predators deep defensive corps.
“I think the leadership of our older guys has really helped me, especially Weber. He’s been really special all year long,” Ellis said. “I think our D corps–even though it’s one of the youngest in the league–has made a lot of improvements and has become a reliable part of our team. Obviously it’s tough that we didn’t make the playoffs, but I think we’re all looking forward to next year.”
With plenty of leaders to look up to even on Nashville’s very green blue line, Ellis has smartly followed the examples laid out before him and it’s paid off.
“I think hard work was the main thing that got me to that next level. Just coming in every day and keeping things simple. And really, coach Housley has helped with my vision on the ice. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Roman and Weber are our one-two punch,” said Ellis. “So they’ve been able to give me some help, along with my experience.”
A first round draft pick in 2009, Ellis’ booming shot and creativity in the offensive zone haven’t been questioned in years. But his defensive skill and ability to make the right reads have been.
Partially from the pushing of assistant coach Phil Housley and partially due to the example of a hardworking Weber, Ellis hasn’t shied from his weaknesses but instead has met them head on. And the results showed on the ice this season.
“I think being too offensive was one of the knocks against me you could say. They would always say that I wasn’t that strong defensively,” said Ellis. “So the first couple years have been about developing in that side of the game. And that really had to happen here, especially with the way we play.”
This year, the Ontario native broke out of the bottom pairing of the Predators defensive corps and made himself an integral part of their nightly lineup. A restricted free agent this summer, Ellis is coming into his own at the right time, and he’s ready to taken an even larger step in Nashville in the seasons to come.
“I haven’t really thought too much about being a [restricted free agent]. The last few games, I just tried to go out and play hard. Trying to show all that I can do, and hopefully they can get me re-signed and I’ll come back,” Ellis said. “I love it here in Nashville. I’ve been here three years, and it’s been some of the most exciting times of my life.”