Nashville Predators Ryan Ellis: The Hidden Defenseman


Let’s face it, if you want to be noticed as a defenseman it’s pretty hard to do on the Nashville Predators.  That’s not because the Northern Media practically ignores everything Smashville, it’s because there are so many unbelievable defensemen on the team that even the extremely talented Ryan Ellis is usually mentioned after Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones.  With Barret Jackman just joining the team, there is plenty of talk about him too. 

So you have a young player who can quarterback the power play, skate through the defense on end-to-end rushes and finished plus 8 this year on the defensive side.  All that and he might be on the third defensive pairing this year. Do you think there are teams out drooling? Oh yeah, he is also on the second year of a very cap-friendly five-year $12.5 million contract.

Ellis was the Predators 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft.  He certainly looked like a steal at the time as he ended up playing four years with the Windsor Spitfire of the Ontario Hockey League and had 314 points which was just 16 points less than Hall-of-Famer Dennis Potvin for the OHL all-time record.  His final year in juniors he had over 100 points, the first time that had happened in over 17 years by a defenseman.

He bounced back and forth between the Preds and Milwaukee for two years before settling with the big club two years ago.  He had 27 points in 80 games and last year scored 27 again but in only 58 games as he missed a month and a half due to injury.  When he was out with a lower body injury, he was definitely missed on the power play.

He is an excellent addition to the power play unit.  He really sees the ice well, knowing where his teammates are.  As the season progressed, he showed he could anticipate plays in the zone during the man advantage.  He also has a cannon of a shot with the right-handed stick and is accurate in getting it on net.  He has a great fake slapper that he uses to create chances for the forwards after sharp diagonal passes.

The young blueliner is certainly not a liability on defense either although folks generally think of him more in the offensive vein.  He is undersized for a defenseman when you think of players like Shea Weber and Barret Jackman but he makes up for it with his smarts and ability to be in the right place.  He holds the middle ice well in the defensive zone and uses his quickness to win more than his share of puck battles with 21 takeaways last season.   He was also fifth on the team with 74 blocks while playing only those 58 games.

Ryan Ellis (4) skates with puck against the Carolina Hurricanes. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Last year he teamed with Mattias Ekholm as a kind of 2B pairing and they meshed right away early in the season.  Their games are very complimentary as Ekholm will jump into the play at neutral ice leaving Ellis to guard the rear while Ellis is more apt to move down the walls and look for a play or an opening leaving his partner back to guard the point.  In both instances they create offensive opportunities while still staying strong defensively.

Ellis’ game matches perfectly with Peter Laviolette’s offensive pressuring style and he could have a real breakout season this year.  Coach Lavy has the luxury of basically two second line pairings with Ellis-Ekholm and Jones-Jackman.  Ryan averaged nearly nineteen minutes of ice time a game last year including 2:11 a night on the power play.  This staff has a wealth of riches with the top six defensemen that they can throw on the ice at any time with no worries.

Ryan Ellis figures to be a big part of the young core of this Nashville Predators team that should be pushing deep into the playoffs for the next several years.  It should become harder and harder for him to fly under the radar even with a team as rich as the Predators are in great defensemen.  That’s a nice problem to have.

Next: What's Next for Filip Forsberg?

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