For much of this season, people have been wondering how much higher the Nashville Predators’ ceiling might be with a healthy Ryan Ellis. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of instances in which a player comes back, but isn’t quite himself for a while, especially when a knee injury is involved.
It’s early, yet through six games, it looks like Ryan Ellis is … indeed, Ryan Ellis.
Last night’s 3-2 shootout win against the Coyotes was maybe the strongest statement so far in that regard, as Ellis scored a goal and an assist, bumping his season totals up to four points in six games.
In the process, he’s impressed his teammates and coaches, as Brooks Bratten of the team website reports.
That said, the best is yet to come, if you as head coach Peter Laviolette.
“He’s catching a moving train,” Laviolette said. “I’m sure he’d tell you he feels good. Every time we talk to him he says he feels good, but I think his game will continue to get better as he plays more and gets more ice time.”
You can see that Laviolette’s confidence is increasing in Ellis being Ellis by checking his game log. In his first three games back from injury, Ellis received 18:43 or less in time on ice. In the past three games, he’s received at least 21 minutes of ice time, with last night’s 22:33 representing a season high.
So far, Ellis’ possession stats are where you’d like to see them, another heartening sign that he can help Nashville much like he did before: on both ends of the ice.
There’s still an element of being eased into the mix, mind you. Through his first six games, Ellis began 61.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, a huge bump from last season’s 47.7 percent and his career average of 52.1 (via Hockey Reference).
It should be fascinating to see how Ellis’ deployment tracks through this season. If Laviolette feels like he needs to be sheltered a bit all throughout 2017-18, it might not be such a bad thing, as P.K. Subban is putting up Norris-worthy all-around numbers, Mattias Ekholm is trusty in his own zone, and Roman Josi might benefit from an offensive-minded deployment himself.
Few teams enjoy the sort of luxuries the Predators enjoy on defense, at least when Ellis is available.
Even with their top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg all somewhere between banged-up and actually injured, the Predators are currently on a four-game winning streak and play five of their next six games in Nashville.
Things are looking up for this Predators team, as they’re in a strong position to take the Central Division, and just seem to get stronger as each month goes along.
If Ryan Ellis being Ryan Ellis is legit instead of being a mirage, then the rest of the NHL better beware.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.