Ryan Ellis is in his third go-round of rookie camp with the Nashville Predators. After being sent back to the Windsor Spitfires twice, Ellis finally appears to be ready to make the leap into full-time professional hockey.
Drafted in the first round, 11th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Ellis is considered by many, including The Hockey News‘ 2011 Future Watch, to be the top prospect in the Predators organization. Along with Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, Teemu Laakso and Jack Hillen, he is expected to compete for one of two open defensive spots on the opening day roster. Due to his recent accomplishments and performance in both prospect camp and rookie camp, some – including Milwaukee Admirals head coach Kirk Muller – appear to view him as a frontrunner.
“Ellis is an elite, special player”, Muller said, adding, “You know (Ellis and Craig Smith) will be the first ones up because they deserve it.”
“I think it’s just being comfortable,” Ellis said. “You have a little more confidence out there, obviously you’re not the youngest kid here. You feel a little more confident in your game and your abilities and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Ellis has every reason to be confident. He leaves junior hockey as the highest scoring defenseman in the history of the World Junior Championship. He also became the highest scoring defenseman in the history of the Windsor Spitfires, while collecting both the CHL and the OHL’s best player and best defenseman awards this past season.
However, Ellis is not taking any of it for granted.
“You can still get sent down. Whether it’s to junior or the (AHL) or to wherever, you can still get sent down. Your main goal every time you come to camp is to make it so whether that happens or not, I think there is going to be a let down if you don’t.”
As much as Ellis would like to being the season in the NHL, he says that he will be patient if he does not.
“It’s important to develop. You don’t want to come in too fast and ruin your career by not developing enough. I think it’s important to come in when you’re ready and I think they know best. I know they’ve seen a lot of players and the coaching staff will know best for sure.”
At a reported 5’10”, Ellis would be one of – if not the – smallest defensemen in the NHL should he make the roster. Perhaps the biggest knock against him and the biggest question mark to his game is whether or not that size will allow him to succeed in the NHL.
“I’m obviously not the biggest guy, I’m not a huge hitter or anything like that. I think (my focus) is more developing on speed and quickness than anything else.”
Since he was drafted, the hype for Ryan Ellis has been building. With more trophies on his shelf and with records in the books, he is one of the most anticipated rookies in the Nashville organization’s short history.
The big question that remains – is Ryan Ellis ready for the NHL?
“I think I’ve been ready for a while.”