Only July 6 the Florida Panthers signed Keaton Ellerby to yet another one year contract. Ellerby's modest contract is a far cry from the kind of money the Panthers thought he would command at this point in his career.
Ellerby was a highly touted prospect. He was selected by the Panthers in the first round (10th) overall of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Ellerby seems to have all the tools to be a great NHL defenseman. He's big, 6-4 and 200 pounds, he's got quick feet, and soft hands but in his three NHL seasons Ellerby has failed to produce like you would hope a first round draft pick would. Guys from the 2007 draft class like Patrick Kane and Sam Gagne have gone on to productive NHL careers, so what's up with Ellerby?
Defense is a specialized position. Most hockey analysts have the tendency to measure a player's value by how many points they score. To be a good defenseman you don't have to score a ton of points. The most important part of playing defense is to find chemistry with your teammates in order to implement your team's system on the ice.
Unfortunately in the NHL point production has become an important aspect to all positions. Top NHL defensemen like Brian Campbell can run the defense and at the same time be a captain on the power play and put up as many points as some forwards.
In his career Ellerby has never been a huge point scorer. In one of Ellerby's best career seasons he put up a modest 23 points with the Rochester Americans in 2008. The Panthers knew what they were getting when they drafted the kid in 2007. Prior to the time he was drafted Ellerby never had more than a 25 point season in the WHL and he mostly came in way under that number.
Ellerby's value lies in his size and his quickness. He is a monster on skates. At 6-4 Ellerby is surprisingly agile and can change direction on a dime. His style of play is reminiscent of Ed Jovanovski, another first round draft pick by the Panthers back in 1994. It took Jovo several years in the league before he began to produce in the points department but he eventually found his groove and routinely put up over 40 points per season in his prime. It's no surprise that the Cats brought Jovanovski back last season and put him on the same defensive line as Ellerby.
There's no doubt about it, Ellerby still hasn't come into his own at the NHL level. Fans like to see immediate production out of first round draft picks and Ellerby hasn't shown it yet. The Cats did the right thing by re-signing this kid. He's still learning the finer points of one of the most difficult positions in hockey and of how to play that position at the NHL level. He has all the right tools and one of the best mentors in the game. With all of these things combined Ellerby has a good chance of being a first line defenseman in the years to come.
All statistics from Yahoo! Sports
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Kristian Eberwein is a freelance journalist from Orlando, Florida. He was an English major at the University of Central Florida and has been a part of the Florida hockey community for the past twenty years. Follow him on Twitter @KrisEberwein
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