The jump to professional hockey hasn't been the easiest for Habs prospect Morgan Ellis, but the 23-year-old defenceman has enjoyed an excellent start to the season with the St. John's IceCaps. Since teaming up with Mark Barberio to form the team's top pairing, Ellis has looked stronger than ever, and is proving that his demotion to the ECHL last season hasn't stumped his development.
During the 2010 NHL entry draft, the Montreal Canadiens selected the junior hockey standout in the fourth round. The rearguard played three-and-a-half seasons for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (two as team captain) in the QMJHL before being traded to the Shawinigan Cataractes in time for their Memorial Cup run. The Cataractes would go on beat the London Knights 2-1 in the final to win the coveted trophy in front of their home fans.
Ellis was a key part of that team, finishing in the top ten in tournament scoring, second among defencemen. To top off what was an incredible final season in junior, Ellis took home the Kevin Lowe trophy, awarded to the Best Defensive Defenceman in the Q. He was also named a second team all-star.
To begin the 2012-13 season, it was off to Hamilton to play for the AHL's Bulldogs. The adjustment to professional hockey wasn't easy for Ellis. The rookie managed only eight points through 71 games and had a terrible +/- of -16.
The following year saw a marked improvement. as he was a plus player, and put up more points, despite getting fewer games, after missing time through injury.
But it's the 2014-15 season that might be Ellis' toughest as a pro. After starting the year in Hamilton, Ellis was sent to the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers; a demotion which many were confused by. Even though it was arguably the wrong decision, Ellis took the reassignment in stride. He put up 13 goals and 13 assists in 39 games for the Nailers, before earning a recall to the Bulldogs.
His strong play continued throughout the remainder of the season, and Habs management took notice. Ellis signed a one-year deal with the club this past summer, earning him another year to prove his worth within the organization.
Although he sits behind the likes of Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn, and Mark Barberio in terms of the organizational depth chart, Ellis has shown that he his not to be overlooked or counted out. Through 16 games with St. John's thus far, Ellis has been one of the more reliable defencemen on a team that has had its defensive struggles.
He has also matched his best AHL goal total (four; set in his rookie season) and is only one point away from matching his highest AHL point total of 10. The offensive numbers may not continue at this rate throughout the season, but IceCaps coach Sylvain Lefebvre can always rely on the bearded number four for solid shutdown play, and good first passes out of his own end.
Come the end of the season, Ellis will once again be looking for a new deal, and if he keeps up the strong play, he'll make Marc Bergevin and Co. face a tough decision.