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Blues goalie prospect Colten Ellis finds himself one step closer to the NHL

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The way the goalie season played out in the Blues organization in 2021-22, with Ville Husso and Charlie Lindgren having strong seasons and signing elsewhere as free agents, might have forced the team to go on the free-agent market for a new No. 2 goalie. But it was good news for the team’s goalies in waiting, Joel Hofer and Colten Ellis.

The signing of the team’s new No. 2 goalie, Thomas Greiss, to a one-year contract sends a clear message — that the club is expecting its next wave of goalies to be ready in 2023-24. In the meantime, barring injury or an unlikely event in training camp, Hofer and Ellis will be playing in the AHL in Springfield, getting ready for that next step while Jordan Binnington and Greiss handle the NHL duties.

Hofer clearly is the next in line, having played two games in the NHL this past season during the span in which the Blues’ goalie situation spun out of control, but Ellis is pushing him. He played most of the season with Worcester in the ECHL but got in six games in Springfield and his 40 professional games played are not far behind Hofer’s 61, though Hofer has one more year as a pro. That, however, was the 2020-21 season, in which Hofer got in only 10 games because of his time spent on the Blues’ taxi squad during the COVID pandemic.

Ellis had a 3.21 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in Worcester, which is an affiliate of the New York Islanders but which the Blues worked a loan agreement with so Ellis could get pro games.

“I think,” Ellis said, “this year was a lot of great experiences and different situations for me to build my development, and going into next year I’m confident and I’m looking to get a big summer of training and then show up ready to go in camp.”

“I don’t want to put places where guys are going to be, they’re all coming to NHL training camp and then their play will dictate it, but I feel like we’ve got a good situation with goalies right now,” said Blues director of player personnel Tim Taylor. “We’ve got some guys who are ready to start pushing again and obviously with ‘Binner’ on top.”

Ellis benefitted from the Blues’ first season with their AHL team in Springfield, Massachusetts. Worcester is about 75 minutes from Springfield, so Ellis was able to easily make the trip between the two if the Thunderbirds needed a goalie on short notice or wanted him at practice. He also was able to join Springfield for its long playoff run and suited up as the backup to Hofer when Lindgren was called up by the Blues after Binnington’s injury.

“It was great,” he said. “It was good to get that experience and see how guys take care of their bodies in the playoffs because it’s a different animal in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. So it was a new experience for me to be able to kind of take that all in and just watch and see what guys are doing. I was lucky to be able to be a part of it and help out in any way I could. But for me just getting in the off-ice with everybody and then getting on and doing all that was awesome.”

Ellis didn’t take part in scrimmages in the Blues’ recent development camp, but he thinks plenty has changed since his last development camp in St. Louis.

“I think my game settled down a lot,” he said. “I think my athleticism was something I relied heavily on three years ago especially, just bringing in that calmness to my game has been a big focus for me and just be able to trust my ability and know I can get post to post without having to open up and try to make that big-time save. I think my skill set’s good enough that I’m able to get there with ease.”

“Goalies take a long time (to develop) and you want to get as many games as possible,” Taylor said. “It was a great year for him, especially to practice in the AHL, go and play ECHL games, be the guy in the ECHL and then come up and practice the next day with our AHL team and then he’s with us all during the playoffs.”

The Blues have two other goalies in their system — Will Cranley, who still can play another season of juniors, and Russian Vadim Zherenko.

Cranley had an unspectacular season with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, but he was coming off a season in which he had played just one game (for Utica of the AHL on the final week of the season) because COVID shut down the OHL. He’s been traded by Ottawa to the OHL team in Flint, Michigan. Zherenko, the Blues’ seventh-round draft pick in 2019, played last season in Finland but is expected to be in training camp this fall.

With Binnington’s long-term contract, it’s very possible that there won’t be room for both Hofer and Ellis in the system if the two develop the way the Blues hope they do. Though they’re a year part in draft classes, they’re only three months apart in age.

“I think I can only control what I control,” Ellis said, “and just focusing on my development is all I’m concerned about. Getting better this summer and being ready to go confidently into camp is my focus right now.”

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