Ellis and Ekholm make final push for opening night roster spots
With the Predators pre-season games now in the books, who makes the final cuts will be handed down by Monday.
Chris Mueller, Gabriel Bourque and Tyler Sloan were assigned to Milwaukee following Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
But some decisions are tougher than others. “We’ve had a change of plans on a couple guys so we’re really undecided,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “There is no question that all pre season, a lot of guys have made it really hard. That’s a great thing,” Trotz said.
Defensemen Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are two players who have been trying to make their case for a roster spot.
“I think I played a pretty good game, but there are a lot of good players here. You never know what management will decide,” Ellis said.
Trotz agrees that Ellis played a solid game. “That was by far Ellis’ best game by a country mile. He is a really intelligent player. Stuff he was trying early in camp, it was Junior stuff. It works in Junior. It doesn’t work here. He’s adjusting his game slowly,” he said.
Ellis assisted on the Predators first goal, scored by Patric Hornqvist on the power play at 7:41 into the third period. Nashville won the game with Craig Smith scored with 10.3 seconds remaining in overtime. Bryan Allen scored the lone Hurricanes goal.
“I try to chip in on the power play as much as I can. Tonight, we had a lot of power plays and I was just trying to do my part,” Ellis, who had 5 shots on goal, said.
Ekholm also had a solid game, registering a team high 9 shots on goal.
“I felt good tonight, especially offensively. I had a lot of time in the offensive zone, but I see myself as a two way defenseman,” Ekholm said.
Ellis and Ekholm were paired together for most of the night. “I love playing with him,” Ellis said about his defense partner, adding, ”He’s a great guy. He moves the puck really well. He skates well. We have great chemistry.”
Whether or not there is room for both of Ellis and Ekholm in Nashville right now is doubtful.
With Francis Bouillon still out of the lineup, there are three roster spots on defense open, if Nashville keeps 7 defensemen. While Teemu Laakso seems to have a lock on one of the final spots, two spots remain for three players — Jack Hillen as well as Ellis and Ekholm. Hillen has been an impressive picture of consistency throughout the pre-season and has been paired with Laakso.
There is no question that Ellis will go to Milwaukee if assigned to the American Hockey League. Ekholm is a different story, however. Ekholm has the option of returning to Sweden to play in the Swedish Elite League, though Predators management would not prefer that option.
Ekholm says if he is assigned to the AHL, he will sit down with team officials to decide his future at that time.
“I will have a meeting with the coaches and see what they think. It isn’t just my decision. I know if I go back to Sweden, I will play 25 minutes a night, but Milwaukee is still a good place to be,” Ekholm said.
Come Monday night, either Ellis or Ekholm will likely be disappointed upon learning the news he has not made the team out of training camp. However, Trotz has made it clear that there is little room for error for the players who do make the squad.
“If someone slipped, we have other guys who can play for us. If anyone backs off in terms of effort or play, there are a lot of guys who can jump in there and play,” Trotz said.
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua
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