It’s as true now as it was then. The major problem is that is most of what people can say about Ellis. He works hard, he adds character, he’s a depth guy.
Those are all true, but he has the skating ability and hands of your standard enforcer.
That has always made me hesitant to support keeping Ellis on the roster. The Welland, Ontario native has spent the last four seasons with the Sabres earning the league minimum. In 2008-09 he spent half the season with the team recording seven goals in 45 games. The following season saw Ellis carve out a full-time spot scoring 14 points in 72 games.
The very next season Ellis couldn’t crack the roster. The Sabres decided to give some of their younger players, in Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis, to play in the NHL while Ellis was sent down to Portland of the AHL. While there he was made the Captain of the club and recording 31 points in 52 games. He received a call-up late in the season a played 14 games with the Sabres without recording a point.
Ellis’ inability to make the Sabres roster was attributed to a plethora of depth forwards and a overall lack of offensive ability. It also hurt Ellis that he was knocked out of the 2009 playoffs with a broken collar bone and spent much of the offseason recuperating. Still, it seemed as though Ellis’ time with the Sabres, and in the NHL, was drawing to a close.
There is something to know about character players like Ellis: they never quit and they always work to get better no matter what. Ellis did just that. Knowing he would likely spend much of his future in the AHL he still signed a multi-year deal with Buffalo, once again a two-way deal for the league minimum.
All it take for a player like Ellis is opportunity. The Sabres decided to keep him on the roster when they went overseas to start the season in case of injury. Well injury there was and injury there still is and Ellis has now played 28 games with Buffalo.
During that time he has proved indispensable. Ellis has serve a checking and defensive role while also chipping in two goals and two assists. He also has displayed the leadership that made him the captain in Portland one season ago.
When sophomore forward Nathan Gerbe was boarded by Marc-Andre Bourdon, a play that gave Gerbe a concussion, Ellis immediately grabbed Bourdon and engaged the rookie for his first NHL fight. Ellis handled himself admirably and showed some toughness to go along with his “grinder” identity.
Ellis has even been moved up to a third line with rookies Luke Adam and Zack Kassian. His “never say die” style of play should help these two improve as overall players and give Ellis a chance to help generate some offense. In a recent game against New Jersey, this line even looked more dangerous than the second line of Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and Brad Boyes. This just demonstrates what Ellis can bring to a young group.
Matt Ellis is proving this season that he is the type of veteran depth you want in your system. Rookies can be hit or miss, but with Matt Ellis you know what you get. Sometimes he can even surprise you, but at the end of the day he’ll always do everything he can to help your team. Even if he isn’t a full time NHLer he will be effective teaching the Sabres’ youngsters in Rochester.