Only 10 games into his NHL career, Ryan Ellis has made an impact, with two goals and three assists. With those numbers, the rookie defenseman has appeared to earn an NHL job on an already talented Nashville blue line.
Two of his goals and one of his assists have come on the power play, helping Nashville to a 21 percent power-play success rate, the league’s third-best mark.
A highly decorated junior, both with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League as well as his nearly unheard-of three appearances with the Canadian World Junior Championship team, Ellis was Nashville’s first-round selection in the 2009 NHL draft. When Ellis captained the 2011 Canadian World Junior team, he became the seventh player to represent Canada in that tournament three times.
Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds, Ellis faced questions about whether he could contribute as effectively at the NHL level as he had as a junior and in the minors.
On Saturday night, the Predators welcomed the Philadelphia Flyers to Music City. Early in the second period, Ellis showed that he was not going to shy away from the physical contact that comes with playing defense in the NHL.
At the 1:45 mark of the middle frame, Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds had the puck in the Nashville zone on the left side. Simmonds attempted to cut to the middle of the ice, but he was sent flying by a solid hip check from Ellis. The hip check — somewhat of a lost art in hockey these days — comes as a surprise when a younger player delivers one.
"It was just a spur-of-the-moment kind of a thing," Ellis said. "He made a nice move to cut in, and, obviously, I had to get in his way. It just kind of happened."
Apparently someone taught Ellis that he must use such tools if he wants to handle the league’s bigger players, like Simmonds.
"It is something I have to do because I am not the biggest guy," he said. "I am not going to truck someone over or anything like that. There is a line you can’t go too low, but if you can pull it off, it is a nice hit."
Staying above the opponents’ knees is imperative. If he was to make contact below the knee, he would be looking at a clipping penalty, not to mention raising the ire of the opposing team.
"I thought I had a play to the inside there," Simmonds said. "He’s a good player. I played against him in junior. He caught me good, and it was a good hit by him."
Ellis drew the admiration of Nashville coach Barry Trotz with the hit.
"I am going to give him credit that he did that on purpose, but sometimes that is out of reaction when a guy makes a pretty good move on you," Trotz said. "It looked pretty impressive from the bench."
Even though Ellis’ NHL career is in its infancy, he is taking care of things at both ends of the ice, something that should bode well for him staying at the game’s highest level.
Central Division notes
• The Chicago Blackhawks will be without the services of Daniel Carcillo for the rest of the season. He had ACL surgery on his left knee Tuesday. Carcillo was injured Jan. 2 when he delivered a hit to Edmonton’s Tom Gilbert. Carcillo received a seven-game suspension as a result of the hit.
• The Columbus Blue Jackets’ dreadful season keeps getting worse. The team put left wing R.J. Umberger on injured reserve Tuesday with what they are deeming an upper-body injury. Multiple outlets are reporting that Umberger has been displaying concussion-like symptoms. The Blue Jackets are reporting his status as week to week.
• A 5-0 whitewash of the Buffalo Sabres on Monday represented the 15th straight home victory for the Detroit Red Wings, setting a new franchise record. The team broke a record established in 1965. Detroit is 18-2-1 at Joe Louis Arena this season.
• After leading the NHL in shooting percentage last season at 24.7 percent, Nashville Predators left wing Sergei Kostitsyn appears to be well on his way to defending that title. He has connected on 25.6 percent of his shots.
• With a 1-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Monday, the St. Louis Blues briefly took over the top spot in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. When Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach in early November, the team was struggling in a very tough division. In two months’ time, Hitchcock has not only turned things around in the Gateway City, but he has also taken the Blues to a 21-5-6 record and has them among the most feared teams in the West heading into the season’s second half.