Wed May 04 01:56pm EDT
Graduating Windsor Spitfires captain Ryan Ellis has so many accolades that a new one might have to be invented.
You can go on and on listing the awards that the Nashville Predators prospect — who today became just the fourth defenceman to win the Red Tilson Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League's most outstanding player — has piled at his feet. In terms of capturing Ellis' four-year run in Windsor for posterity, David Poile, the Predators GM who drafted him 11th overall in 2009, suggested CHL president and OHL commissioner David Branch might want to get cracking on a legacy project .
I asked Mr. Branch earlier today, 'Do you have a hall of fame in the CHL?' " Poile said on the conference call announcing Ellis' honour. "He said no, but they're thinking of having one. Well, if there's going to be a hall of fame in Canadian major junior, Ryan Ellis is going to be part of that. There's been terrific players in junior hockey, but Ryan Ellis ranks as one of the best of all time."
The choice was a slam dunk, with Ellis being named first on more than half of 75 media ballots, receiving 245 points. Ottawa 67's right wing Tyler Toffoli and Kitchener Rangers centre Jason Akeson, the OHL's co-scoring champions, finished second and third with 135 and 74 points respectively. The Freelton, Ont., native carried a 'tweener team — the Spitfires kept seven players from its second MasterCard Memorial Cup championship club, but also dressed several rookies, including four with 1994 birthdates — to within three wins of third successive berth in the CHL championship.
Ellis is the first defenceman to win the award since Brian Campbell with 1998-99 Ottawa 67's. The late Bryan Fogarty ('88-89 Niagara Falls Thunder) and Ron Howell ('55-56 Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters) are the others.
"I didn't know the fact that it had been only three previous defencemen," Ellis said from Houston, where's he with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL playoffs. "There's been a lot of great players who have come through this league and to be on that trophy with a lot of the greats is very exciting. It'll be something you remember down the road."
"It's been great so far," Ellis said of being dropped into the minor-league post-season, where he's skating alongside fellow OHLers Taylor Beck, Michael Latta and Austin Watson. "It's lot of fun, we've got some great guys, we've got a great coach, it's been a real smooth transition, playing the games in the playoffs has been exciting."
With his time in Windsor complete, the question turns to how long before the 5-foot-10, 179-pound Ellis can crack the Predators lineup on a regular basis. His one-time Team Canada teammate, P.K. Subban, needed an AHL apprenticeship of less than one year to become a full-time player with the Montreal Canadiens. The Predators, though, emphasis letting their defenceman mature in Milwaukee. They're also deep on the back end.
"I have a little saying that the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee, all of our younger players, Shea Weber, Ryan Sutter, [former Predator] Dan Hamhuis, have all played in Milwaukee, which has served them very well," Poile said. "We want to see how Ryan adjusts during these playoffs, it will be good learning experience for him, we're certainly looking for him to compete for a job when he comes to a NHL training camp. ... We're really looking to give him a really good shot to make our team when he comes to training camp."
Sweater retirement likely
Ellis, 20, has tended to demur from making too much of these end-of-season honours. Spitfires GM and president Warren Rychel said the team will likely retire his number
"I think we can find a spot for No. 6 here in the rafters," Definitely, I don't think you'll see that number worn here, [it will be] with some of the Spitfire greats, Joel Quenneville, Marcel Pronovost, Ernie Goddard and obviously, Mickey Renaud [the 19-year-old captain who died in February 2008].
"He's going to join some great company there, but I can just say he was awesome," Rychel added. "I can remember the first day [former coach] Bob [Boughner] and I went to visit him at his home in Freelton. Everyone always wrote a small defenceman off. He's just been achieving level after level and hats off to him ... You'll never replace a Ryan Ellis."
It's long been a bygone, but as a 16-year-old minor midget in 2007, Ellis was believed to be on the fence about major junior vs. the NCAA, with talk he might attend Ohio State. Windsor chose him early in the second round and now you know the rest of the story, the two Memorial Cups and the unofficial Hockey Canada grand slam, being the only player to have skated for gold medal-winning teams in the World Under-17 Challenge, the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka and IIHF under-18 tournaments and the world junior championship.
"It was a pretty close call," Ellis recalled. "At the time we really didn't know, talking to Rychs and Bob Boughner made it a pretty easy choice. In the end, it's been the best choice of my life so far."
The numbers say Ellis had 404 regular-season and playoff points in 290 games across four seasons. That, of course, is not what he'll take from Windsor.
"The biggest thing is what it takes to win," he said. "It's a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Learning that at an early age will hopefully help me down the road."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).