Ryan Ellis might have thought he was dreaming.
After all, he was on a flight from Milwaukee to Nashville en route to his National Hockey League debut at a time when he typically naps prior to a game. And the Milwaukee Admirals played the Rockford IceHogs on Monday,
“Usually I’m taking a nap and I’m at the rink for a 7 o’clock game at 4:15,” Ellis said. “It was a lot different, but there are things you have to adjust to and adversity you have to overcome. I got on the plane and tried to nap the best I could.
“Once I got here I tried to get as many coffees in me as I could.”
The reality of his situation was without question by the time he arrived at Bridgestone Arena, barely more than an hour before the opening faceoff of the Nashville Predators’ game with the Detroit Red Wings.
He was recalled following the morning skate at Milwaukee and replaced Nashville captain Shea Weber, who was scratched because of an upper body injury. Weber failed to finish the morning skate with his team.
“I think it’s a pretty big occasion,” Ellis said. “It’s almost like your first big job or whatever you want to compare it to. … Everyone gets excited and nervous and the butterflies and what-not. I think I definitely had a little something at the start of the game, but as it went on I think I just kind of fit in and tried to make simple plays.”
The Predators lost 4-1, but the 2009 first-round draft pick played significant minutes, including on the power play.
His 18:13 of ice time was more than all but five of his teammates’ and only Ryan Suter spent more time on the ice during their five power plays. None of them produced a goal, but there were plenty of opportunities.
“The kid they brought up is as good as there is in hockey on the power play, so he’s no slouch,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “He doesn’t have the bomb that Weber has, but he has all those other things — he’s very deceptive, he really sees. He has ice water in his veins. He’s going to be a dominant power play guy in the National Hockey League.”
Ellis was the only Nashville defensemen who blocked a shot in the opening period — he had two. He finished with that number, which still was the most by a Predators blue liner.
He registered three shots on goal for the game — also tied for the most among the defense corps — and delivered a couple of hits.
He was on the ice for only one of the four goals against, although it was a big one. Detroit went from a 1-0 advantage to a 3-0 edge with goals 13 seconds apart in the second period, the second of which was against Ellis and Jack Hillen, his defense partner for much of the contest.
“He got here a little bit late,” center Mike Fisher said. “He played well, I thought. He was patient with the puck and made some good plays. For his first game, I thought he played real well.”
In 26 games at Milwaukee in his first professional season, he had 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 26 games. He led all rookie defensemen and was tied for ninth among all defensemen in scoring.
His presence meant the Predators’ lineup included five of their own first-round draft picks.
“I made a call to [Milwaukee coach] Ian Herbers and said, ‘Send me your best guy,’ ” coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s what we usually do unless it’s very specific in terms of role. … That’s sort of the mandate I like to stay with.
“… I thought he played pretty well.”