Ellerby enjoying new lease on life in Los Angeles
Hockey: Trade to Kings a welcome rejuvenation for NHL defenceman
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 06:00 am
There are few better places for career resurrection in the National Hockey League than on the blueline of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Foothills product Keaton Ellerby is enjoying a new lease on his NHL life after being dealt for the first time in his professional career and landing with the Los Angeles Kings.
“People always need change and a clean slate is always good,” Ellerby said Wednesday, following the Kings’ 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome.
“I think that was a big step in my career just getting to a new place and starting over fresh and it’s working out well so far.”
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Ellerby played in parts of four seasons in Florida. The stay-at-home blueliner suited up for 125 games with the Panthers, registering two goals and 17 points, prior to being dealt to the Kings on Feb. 8 in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2013 Draft.
“For both sides it was time to part ways and whatever no hard feelings either way,” Ellerby said. “It’s just part of the game, but it was definitely time for that change. I can’t say a bad thing about Florida. It was an awesome place to play, a great group of guys. It was up-and-down, there were positives and negatives but it is what it is. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you wanted them to and you’ve just got to move on.”
The change of address has also come with an increased workload. Ellerby has transitioned from bit-part defenceman in Florida to top-pairing duty alongside Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty in Los Angeles. Through eight games with the Kings, Ellerby is averaging 15 minutes per game, has picked up one assist and sits at a plus/minus of +3.
“It’s definitely easy to play with (Doughty),” said Ellerby. “You just give him the puck and let him do what he does. He’s one of the best defencemen in the league. It’s good chemistry, there are some offensive guys and defensive guys and I think we complement each other well.”
Ellerby, who grew up in Priddis and played minor hockey in Okotoks until 2004, is getting back to his roots in the wild, wild Western Conference. A graduate of the Western Hockey League, where he played with the Kamloops Blazers and Moose Jaw Warriors, he admitted it’s been an adjustment to jump right into the Pacific Division.
“It’s a battle every night out here,” said Ellerby, 24. “Teams here are more grind it out, chip pucks in, get on the forecheck and bang and crash in lower scoring games. It’s not the shootouts, the back-and-forth high scoring games. It’s more of a western style of hockey with the tough, big guys.”
The six-foot-five, 221-pound rearguard has more than ample size and physicality to handle the grind. In fact, Ellerby said his style of play is tailor made for the Western Conference.
“Growing up in the west, being raised in Alberta, you play that style your whole life,” Ellerby said. “Out east you get accustomed to the different style, but coming back here it’s definitely a change you have to get used to. Over time it’s a very quick adjustment and it’s a fun style to play.”
The Pacific Division is arguably the league’s most physical.
“There’s some big guys out here,” Ellerby said with a grin. “They can skate, they can shoot and they’re not going to hesitate banging you from behind or throwing your head into the glass. It’s a man’s game out here.”
Resigned to just three home games in Los Angeles during a road-heavy Kings’ schedule of late, Ellerby has hardly enjoyed any time to get used to life in Southern California.
However, he has had a chance to get to know the Kings’ fans.
“It’s electric. Those American fans know how to cheer for their team and when you’re doing well they’re going to support you. It was an awesome experience. Staples Center is one of the best arenas in the world.”
Ellerby, on a one-year contract paying him $ 700,000, will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He said he’s under no false illusions about his lot in the National Hockey League.
The Strathmore native knows he can’t take any nights off during this crucial career juncture in which he hopes to establish himself as an everyday defenceman with the Kings.
“It’s a huge step for my career and I think that change of scenery is definitely going to be a positive impact on taking that next step,” he said. “I’m a more focused guy and I want to play big minutes. I want to play against the best guys in the league and just make a name for myself out west.
“If I keep playing well, keep doing what I do here then hopefully it will be a long career in L.A.”