Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm aren’t the first names people think of when talking about the Nashville Predators defense. It’s easy to be lost in the shuffle when another pairing is Shea Weber and Roman Josi. That group is considered by some as the best in the league.
However, there is no doubt that both are worth a lot to the Nashville Predators. Ellis was missed when he was lost for three games after taking a puck to the side of the head in the Nashville’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on March 29. Ellis did make his return in the Predators’ 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on April 5, which also eliminated their divisional foes.
Ekholm earned a contract extension that will be a good value in the future. The Borlange, Sweden native picked up career-high in goals (8), assists (27) and points (35).
The duo is an essential part of why the Predators boast one of the best defenses in the league.
Ryan Ellis Eating Ice Time
Ellis has seen ice time go up since general manager David Poile dealt Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen in January. Ellis is third in that statistic with 20 minutes, 49 seconds, and he’s had more meaningful minutes ever since the trade.
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He logged 21:34 in his return to the lineup in the win against Colorado. Those minutes took some of the pressure away from Weber, Josi and the rest of the defense corps. The native of the Hamilton, Ontario region has played meaningful minutes and will do so in the playoffs.
Mattias Ekholm Earning His Keep
The Swedish blue-liner made steady gains in his first two seasons in the league, but the 2015-16 season showed that Ekholm is an important piece in the Predators’ plans.
Ekholm’s received a new contract with a nice pay raise with a six-year, $22.5 million deal that allows Poile to maximize his value. Ekholm also saw a bump in ice time to 17:40 in even-strength situations after the trade that sent Seth Jones to Columbus for center Ryan Johansen.
His play is drawing notice from Team Sweden and he could find a way on the World Cup squad. He’s as flashy or experienced as an Alexander Edler or Johnny Oduya, but he’s turned into a reliable two-way defender.
An Underrated Combo
Many talk about how well Josi and Weber work together, but let’s not forget how Ellis and Ekholm make a solid second pair. Ellis and Ekholm have gotten a lot more run in power-play and penalty killing situations.
The duo has worked well together for the better part of the last few seasons.
Peter Laviolette has split them up a couple of times in the last couple of seasons, but the two do their best work as partners. Ekholm has worked with fellow Swede Petter Granberg, while Ellis has sometimes played with Barret Jackman.
However, Ellis and Ekholm are back together and will be a key for the Predators in their opening-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. The duo will need to chip in at both ends if Nashville wants to advance for only the third time in franchise history.