Defense prospect hopes to leave Predators with no choice

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 10:31pm

At 19 years old and with a signed professional contract waiting to go into effect, Ryan Ellis hardly has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The Nashville Predators’ top choice in the 2009 draft does believe he now carries enough weight to allow him to expand his hockey world beyond the Ontario Hockey League, where he has been a dominant player.

“I think I’ve done a lot in junior, and I’d love to make the next step up to the pro ranks,” Ellis said. “But I still have the year of eligibility in junior. … The NHL is a big jump and you have to be prepared for it.”

NHL rules that mandate that players with available eligibility in juniors must remain with their junior club unless they are on an NHL roster. Thus, this year he cannot take the preferred first step for Predators’ prospects, which is to play for their AHL affiliate at Milwaukee.

His first opportunity to make his case for an NHL roster spot comes Wednesday and Thursday, when Nashville’s rookies meet a team of their peers from the Florida Panthers in Florida. He will be just one piece of a highly regarded defense corps that includes 2007 first-round choice Jonathon Blum as well as second-round picks Roman Josi (2008) and Charles-Oliver Roussel (2009).

“People always say size an issue but it’s really not,” Blum, who has faced similar concerns, said. “You can play this game no matter how big or small you are. They NHL nowadays is full of puck-moving defenseman who get the puck out quick and help produce offensively.”

From a statistical standpoint, there are no questions about Ellis’ ability to contribute at the NHL level.

Blessed with better than average instincts, he has racked up huge offensive numbers over the last three seasons, the last two of which ended with him and his Windsor Spitfires teammates hoisting the Memorial Cup, junior hockey’s top prize. Nashville picked him 11th overall after he racked up 89 points (22 goals, 67 assists) in 57 games. Last season he battled injury but still managed 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 48 appearances.

The only apparent issue is his size.

He was 5-foot-10, 172 pounds when he was drafted. He added eight pounds – “eight pounds of muscle,” he said – coming into this season, which he hopes will make it difficult for team management to move him out at the end of training camp.

“I love the weight room,” he said. “You feel better each day you go in. You wake up all groggy and tired but after you do a good lift or a run or whatnot, you feel 10 times better about yourself. I love that about the weight room.”

Among Predators’ all-time draft choices, Scott Hartnell made the quickest the jump from the draft to the NHL. Hartnell, the sixth overall pick in 2000, played 75 games for Nashville as an 18-year-old.

Scottie Upshall, taken sixth overall in 2002, made the roster out of training camp but was sent back to the junior ranks before he appeared in 10 games, at which point a player is committed to the NHL for an entire season.

David Legwand played one more year in juniors after he was selected second overall in 1998 and once that season was finished, he joined the Predators in time for the final game of their inaugural campaign. He was a full-time NHL player the following year.

“The organization is going to make their decision on that, and they know what’s best for a player,” Ellis said. “You just have work hard, try your hardest and hope you get the call. If not, you work harder than you ever have before.”

Briefly

• The NHL announced Tuesday a change to the format for breaking ties in the standings at the end of the season.

When teams finish with the same amount of points and both or neither are first in the division, their order will be based on wins in regulation or overtime but not shootouts.

Previously, shootout victories were included.

Nashville finished seventh outright in the Western Conference last season but was tied for fifth in shootout wins with eight, the second straight season it finished among the top 10.