EL SEGUNDO, CA — Despite being acquired by the Los Angeles Kings just five days ago, defenseman Keaton Ellerby already seems like a Southern California native, at least a little bit, anyway.
“I went down for lunch in Hermosa [Beach] with [defenseman Jake] Muzzin and [right wing Jordan] Nolan, and then just waited around,” Ellerby said, describing what he did during the Kings’ day off on February 12. “I picked up some sushi last night, checked the beach out…”
Sounds a lot like what the locals might do on a day off, right? Not so fast, at least, not in this case, anyway.
“I toured around a little bit yesterday,” said Ellerby. “It’s going to take awhile to get used to everything, and all traffic, stuff like that.”
Ellerby started the day off getting some much needed extra rest.
“I kind of slept in,” said the 24-year-old, 6-5, 217-pound native of Strathmore, Alberta. “I came in, and did the whole tour of the [Kings practice] facility yesterday.”
After that, it was time to get the lay of the land…
…or try to, anyway.
“I was with Muzzin and Nolan, for the most part,” he indicated. “I got a rental car at about 3:00 PM, so I tried to drive around a little bit, and figure some stuff out, but thank God for iPhones and Google Maps. I would’ve been…who knows where.”
“I picked up some shorts and T-shirts—we were on the road [with Florida], so I didn’t have any of my stuff. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe.”
Two days after being acquired by the Kings from the Florida Panthers, in exchange for a fifth round selection in the 2013 National Hockey League Draft, Ellerby had to jump right into the fray against the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues.
“Those two teams, right off the hop, Detroit and St. Louis—they’re two great teams,” Ellerby noted. “But I think the effort we put in was solid. We built off [the game in] Detroit, and went into St. Louis, and picked up two huge points.”
But prior to that, talk about a whirlwind couple of days.
“[Finding out that he had been traded] was shocking,” said Ellerby. “It actually woke me up. We [rode the train] from Philadelphia into Washington, D.C., and got in kind of late. We had a little bit of a sleep-in, and I got the call at about 9:30 AM from [Florida general manager] Dale Tallon that I’d been traded, and that I had about an hour and fifteen minutes to make it to the airport, and get on my flight.”
“I threw everything into my bag, jumped in a cab, and took off,” added Ellerby. “It was a quick turnaround, and there was a lot of stuff going through my mind, but now that I’m here, and settled a little bit, it’s definitely sinking in more, and I’m ready to get after it.”
As all players do when they are traded, Ellerby had a lot on his mind after that phone call.
“Oh man…tons of stuff,” he noted. “South Florida to Southern California, cross country. What am I going to do with my apartment, my clothes, this and that, cars, just a million things.”
“But I’m super excited,” he added. “I couldn’t have come into a better situation.”
During the game at St. Louis on February 11, after defenseman Alec Martinez suffered an upper body injury, and is now on injured reserve, retroactive to February 11. He will be out at least one week, but would be playing if the Kings were in the playoffs now, according to head coach Darryl Sutter. But at St. Louis, with Martinez going down, the Kings had to play musical chairs with their defensemen, giving Ellerby a rather unusual opportunity…to play on the power play.
“I got a chance the other night in St. Louis, and [defenseman] Davis [Drewiske] was joking around, telling me that I had to get to the middle and shoot the puck,” Ellerby said, chuckling. “I told him that I hadn’t been on the power play in about four years, so I’ve got to remember how to do that.”
“It was more of a defensive, penalty-kill kind of role in Florida,” Ellerby added. “But whatever situation I get in here, I’m going to make the most of it. [I’ll] just give’em what I’ve got, play hard, and do what they want me to do.”
At St. Louis, Ellerby found himself on the ice with star defenseman Drew Doughty.
“The kid is an absolutely phenomenal hockey player,” Ellerby said about Doughty. “A Norris Trophy candidate, Gold Medal winner, Stanley Cup winner. He’s done it all, and he’s only 23 years old.”
“Getting thrown in here, and getting paired with a guy like that is huge for [my] confidence,” Ellerby added. “I think our styles of play complement each other. Hopefully, we can be a solid pairing for a long time.”
Sutter indicated that Ellerby will likely find himself playing on the right side, even though that is not his natural position, and that he still needs to be fully integrated into how the Kings do things.
“I think that he’s better on the left side than the right side, because he’s a left shot,” said Sutter. “[But] it’s not a drastic change for Keaton. In our system, there’s little things that he has to adjust to, but it’s [also] an adjustment with the change of conference.”
“He hasn’t played much against these teams out here, so he doesn’t know the players very well,” added Sutter. “It’s good that we’ve got three or four days to work with him to get him into more of the system things that we want him to do. He’s a big guy, he skates well. Hopefully, that can help our defense.”
Ellerby got a crash course in just how different the two conferences are in the games at Detroit and St. Louis.
“Eastern Conference to the Western Conference—the style of play is unbelievably different,” he stressed. “It’s crazy! It’s like a playoff game almost every night here. The teams are bigger, they battle. It’s more of a Western style of hockey—grind it out, smash each other around, lower scoring games.”
“Out East, you get a lot of 7-1, 6-2, 6-6 games, a lot of goals,” he added. “Out here, I find that it’s more 3-2, 2-1—one-goal games. But that’s good. I like that kind of play. I grew up in the [Western part of Canada]. I played in the Western Hockey League, and grew up around that style of hockey, so I’m excited [to be able] to play that way.”
Sutter noted that making the shift from East to West isn’t Ellerby’s only challenge.
“He’s got a lot to learn,” Sutter emphasized. “He’s a kid who hasn’t played much. We’re not talking about a player anybody’s familiar with. We’re talking about a player who hasn’t played much in the NHL. That’s no different from three or four of our guys. They’ve got a lot to learn, and it’s our responsibility to help him adjust to the Western Conference, but he’s got an adjustment to make to become a full-time NHL player.”
In terms of inspiration for his career, Ellerby pointed to his father.
“He coached me all the way up, helped me along the way, sacrificed pretty much everything to get me where I am,” Ellerby noted. “I’m eternally grateful for that. He’s definitely a huge inspiration.”
Ellerby also had another, more famous, or perhaps, infamous, depending on your point of view, family member to look up to.
“I grew up watching my cousin, [Phoenix Coyotes forward and captain] Shane Doan, right from the start, so he was my favorite player growing up,” he said. “Defensively, I always liked Ray Bourque and Chris Pronger. Bobby Orr was the all-time best defenseman. Those three were my favorite growing up.”
Especially after the 2012 Western Conference Finals against the Coyotes, Doan is not the most well-liked opponent around the Kings dressing room. But so far, Ellerby has not caught any flak about being related to him.
“[There has been almost no reaction] yet,” said Ellerby. “I don’t know if everybody knows it. I guess when we play them, the guys will probably find out, and get a laugh over it.”
“[Looking at] that playoff series last year, he’s a battler and a competitor,” added Ellerby. “He’s my cousin, but he’s the enemy when we play them. There’s no friends on the other side.”
But since it appears that few of his teammates appear to know about it, at this point, anyway, Ellerby made one request…
“I hear he’s not very [well] liked around these parts,“ he joked. “So keep that on the [down low].”
Frozen Royalty Video via YouTube – Interviews From Los Angeles Kings Practice, February 13, 2013
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