You can be excused for mistaking Ryan Ellis as a member of Canada's National Junior Team support staff. Ellis is five-foot-nine, weighs 180 pounds and looks his age (17).
But he's proof that firepower comes in small packages.
Ellis is a lethal weapon on Canada's blue line, as evidenced by his goal and two assists in an 8-1 over the Czech Republic in the tournament opener.
He is only the second 17-year-old defenceman to score for Canada at the World Juniors, joining Wade Redden, who had three goals in 1994.
"It has been awhile since a 17-year-old defenceman made (the National Junior Team) and that was kind of surprising," Ellis says.
A wizard with the puck and the owner of tremendous poise when the puck is on his blade, Ellis doesn't panic and has shown the coaching staff he is more than a power play specialist.
"He is bright. He is intelligent," says Canadian head coach Pat Quinn, who had Ellis at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship last spring when Canada won gold. "You could see there was an element to his game that maybe genetics had something to do with because he could see how to play the game."
Ellis showed his face almost exclusively on the power play at U18 championship in Kazan, Russia, but finished tied for the lead in scoring by defencemen with three goals and four assists in seven games.
Quinn thought so highly of Ellis's performance that he went with eight defenceman instead of seven in Ottawa.
"From last spring until now, he has really improved immensely. It started with his conditioning and his habits," says Quinn. "They changed and he is in better condition and now that same smarts that he displays in the offensive side, I think he has it defensively too. The only thing that will get in his way is size. But there are guys who can get through it if they learn their positions well."
Ellis led all Canadian Hockey League defencemen in scoring when he departed for the NJT selection camp in early December, racking up 48 points for the Windsor Spitfires, one of the CHL’s top ranked teams.
Despite his strong offensive numbers, he had heard the knocks against him – due mainly to his size – but it quick to dismiss them.
"The rule changes have benefited me,'' he says. "The new rules have allowed me to progress."
While his offensive stats got all the attention after the win over the Czechs, Ellis excelled on the defensive end as well, earning ice time at five-on-five to go along with his power play work.
"I was surprised with the amount of five-on-five play I had and I was more than happy to take it,” he says. “I will do anything to help the team win."
With all the attention on his individual play, Ellis is quick to point out that hockey is a team game and he is benefiting from being surrounded by great teammates.
"I think the guys I am playing with have a ton of talent and when you can play with that kind of talent, it helps your confidence and I am thriving off that right now."
And Canada is reaping the benefits.
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