One of the major question marks facing the IceCaps heading into this season was how their defence corps would handle the permanent losses of Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn, and Jarred Tinordi. Enter Morgan Ellis, who not only made up for the offensive loss of the NHL graduates, but became the leader of a group of defencemen that, by the end of the year, was mostly comprised of players on amateur tryout contracts.
After spending much of the previous season in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers, Ellis was thrust into a leading role alongside Mark Barberio to start the year. The results were immediate, with both skaters racking up the points, combining for eight goals and 28 assists through the first three months. Even when Barberio was recalled to the Montreal Canadiens permanently, Ellis continued to dominate, racking up 10 goals and 16 assists in the second half.
Ellis registered an impressive 16 goals and 26 assists while playing in a lineup missing many of it's stars after the All-Star break. His impressive scoring prowess landed him second in the AHL in goals by a defenceman, and eighth in overall scoring among blue-liners.
With Barberio recalled, Ellis was also named to the AHL All-Star Game, where he finished third in the "Hardest Shot" competition, registering a blistering 100-mph slapshot. To cap off the season, he collected the award for the IceCaps' top defenceman, and it wasn't really close once Barberio was recalled.
Ellis' strength lies in his outstanding offensive instincts. He is unafraid to jump into the rush to create plays, and acts as the quarterback the power play. Not only does he possess that booming slapshot, but he makes good use of wrist and snap shots to get the puck on net and create scoring chances.
While he has the ability to be a great puck carrier and solid passer, Ellis often relies on rimming the puck along the boards in his defensive end. This appears to be an issue from the NHL level down to the AHL, not something limited to just Ellis in particular.
Thanks to his strong play, Ellis also received a short NHL call-up. However, in his three games, he never topped 11 minutes of ice time. It's very clear that Ellis was deserving of a larger shot, considering he continued his dominant offensive ways after being sent back to St. John's.
This season was essentially "do or die" for Ellis, who had failed to make a lasting impact during his entry-level years with the Canadiens organization. On the heels of a career season in the AHL, and his first taste of NHL action, it's very clear that Ellis is an asset worth keeping in the system. There aren't a lot of offensively talented blue-liners in the Habs prospect cupboard, unless you're counting Magnus Nygren who is playing in Sweden for the time being.
The time is now for Ellis to make the jump to the NHL. If he doesn't manage to do so in training camp this summer, he's arguably more than made his case to be their go-to call-up. Not bad for a guy who spent the previous season playing in the ECHL to make room for Joe Finley and Bobby Shea.