When the Predators hired Phil Housley as their assistant coach, it gave them an element to their coaching staff that had not previously been seen in Nashville. Housley is one of the best offensive defensemen in the history of the game, racking up 1,232 points in 1,495 career NHL games. Those 1,232 career points rank fourth all-time among NHL defensemen.
Nashville’s younger defensemen like Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi could really benefit from a coach like Housley. Ellis in particular is a guy that has been highly regarded as an offensive defenseman. He has struggled to be an effective player during his short time in the NHL so far, and Housley could be very instrumental in helping Ellis find his offensive flare from the blue line at the NHL level. Of course, he’s got to actually meet and become familiar with him first.
“You’re going to have to watch some film. You’re going to have to get familiar. You want to get as familiar as you can with those players. And then creating a relationship with those guys. I think that’s going to help me now before camp gets here is trying to get some conversations with them, feel them out, see who they are. They can bounce some things off me, and I think the sooner the better,” Housley said.
One of the biggest knocks on Ellis that has followed him for years has been the knock on his size. Ellis is generously listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. During his playing days, Housley was listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. Housley’s lack of size obviously did not prevent him from having a stellar NHL career.
“If there was anybody that ever had any doubt, it would always be about his size, and that was never ever a problem. The guy could play in all situations successfully,” said Predators general manager David Poile.
Housley has a smart hockey mind. He’s able to determine how young NHL defensemen can be successful, and a lot of it has to do with off-ice training during the off-season.
“I think the number one thing is you’ve got to do your work off ice, especially from the ground up. Everybody’s doing that today. They’re working on their legs, and their core is going to be really important to build strength and balance and not being able to get pushed off the puck,” Housley said. “And from that point, it’s just keep working on your skills. As you evolve and mature and you’re able to gain that experience of what other players are doing, what they’re trying to accomplish, how you have to defend them, and then be able to read and react and be able to jump in the play. Those are some of the things that I think many of the defensemen have to work on. I think once we get to know all the players on the team, I’ll have a better assessment at that point.”
Young players throughout the league tend to have a bump in the road on their development path. The Predators saw that firsthand in the 2012-13 season with Ellis and Craig Smith. In order for the Predators to be successful in 2013-14, it is imperative that those younger players have positive bounce-back seasons. Confidence is really the key to being able to have that sort of bounce-back season. Ellis is going to find a way to earn a spot on the NHL roster out of training camp.
Next season will be very telling for Ellis and his development. He finished the 2012-13 season with a combined 20 points in 64 games between the NHL and AHL, a regression from his 2011-12 totals.
“I think it still goes back to what you do in the off-season. If you put your time in, it just seems you create that confidence. You get confidence from feeling strong. It plays itself out on the ice, and you gain that confidence. If you don’t take care of yourself and you don’t work hard in those areas, it seems like all these other guys that are are getting ahead of you,” Housley said.
“And especially for a smaller guy, not to lose any speed or quickness or endurance. That’s why I think hockey is one of the hardest sports to train for because not only do you have to work on power, but you have to work on endurance and quickness. A lot of these players today like Ryan are gifted, but you still have to work at your game.”