Ryan Ellis, Preds Defense Depth, And More...
Friday, 02.24.2012 / 11:41 AM
Ryan Ellis was assigned to Milwaukee this morning, and to me that signifies a few things.
First of all is that for Ryan Ellis this is not performance-based. Barry Trotz has gone out of his way to say time and time again he likes what Ellis has done on the ice and is pleased with his development so far. But the reality of the situation is that only six (and rarely seven) D get to play in a game. Ellis and Roman Josi are the only two Predators defensemen who can be sent down without clearing waivers. And with Ellis out of the lineup once Hal Gill was acquired, the Preds needed to do something as far as getting Ellis some playing time.
Heading to Milwaukee is probably not his favorite thing, but at the end of the day it will provide Ellis an opportunity for heavy minutes in a top role every game. Ellis will be the power play QB once again, get a lot of ice, and be able to keep his game sharp instead of sitting in the press box every game up in Nashville. It certainly will help his development more. The more key minutes Ellis plays, the better.
This also shows just how much Roman Josi’s stock has risen within the organization. The Preds scouts have talked glowingly of Josi since the moment they drafted him, but to rise up the depth chart he had to pass a deep group of blue chip prospects. Now a fixture paired with Hal Gill, Josi has earned a lot of trust from coaches in big situations. Certainly he’s still a rookie and sometimes makes plays that show his inexperience, but the journey from his first few unsure games to now is remarkable. He has risen to the occasion and reminds me just a little of the similar journey Jonathon Blum went through last year. Of course Josi has much room for growth and improvement, but his emergence has really helped Nashville in many ways and allowed the team to not have to lean on Blum quite as hard when he struggled this year.
Perhaps something that flies under the radar here is Jack Hillen’s role with the team. It’s not easy to be a 7th defenseman or extra forward, but Hillen has helped when called on and doesn’t seem to miss a beat. He would have had to clear waivers in order to go to Milwaukee and the Predators don’t want to expose him to the possibility of being lost, which shows how the coaches value his contributions. They know depth is the name of the game in a long playoff run. Trotz has said it may take seven, eight, or even nine defensemen in a playoff run depending on injuries or matchup requirements, so the Predators know full well Hillen’s solid play will be useful in any series. And if you don’t think defensive depth is tested that deeply in the playoffs, I’ll take you back to the Buffalo/Carolina 2006 Eastern Conference Final series in which the Sabres were down four regular defensemen for a pivotal Game Seven that Buffalo led into the second period but ultimately lost – sending the Hurricanes on to a Stanley Cup win over Edmonton.
Or just last season when the Vancouver Canucks had nine different defensemen lace up the skates during the run to the Cup Finals and only two of their d-men played in all 25 playoff games last season.
And if nothing else, I think Trotz’s statement about the playoffs holds a lot of truth: offense may win you games, but defense will win you championships.
Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.