Al MacInnis is a big name in the Cape Breton Island area of Nova Scotia, and obviously a big name in Blues franchise history as a Hall of Famer.
Goalie Colten Ellis is hoping to follow in his footsteps. Ellis, selected in the third round of the NHL draft on June 22 — No. 93 overall — is from the same area as MacInnis.
“He’s someone that I knew a little bit prior to this,” Ellis said during the just-completed Blues prospects camp. “He actually grew up only 45 minutes from where I played my (youth) hockey. So it was a pretty special connection.
“A couple of his relatives I know pretty well. One of his relatives was in my class growing up. . . . The previous summer I got to participate in his golf tournament that he hosted in Cape Breton. I got to meet him there officially, so that was pretty cool.”
Last week, there was Ellis performing at Enterprise Center with other Blues prospects under the watchful eye of MacInnis — now a senior adviser for the team — and other Blues officials sitting in the stands.
At age 18, Ellis is several years removed from working his way through the organization’s goalie pipeline up to the big club. But in two years with Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ellis obviously did something to catch their eye.
This past season, he was 27-15-0 with a 2.47 goals-against average, a save percentage of .910 and three shutouts. He was just as good in the playoffs, with an 8-4 record, 2.36 GAA, .919 save percentage and one shutout.
“He had a good year, and he’s actually going to Team Canada for the World Junior evaluation camp,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues’ director of player development. “That’s gonna be in late July, August. So we’ll get to see him at the highest level. Hopefully he puts a good camp together. It’ll be great for him to have the opportunity to play for Team Canada.”
Ellis played well during the four-day Blues camp. Along with the play of Joel Hofer, a fourth-round pick from the Western Hockey League in 2018, the goaltender work was among the camp highlights.
Ellis is the latest Blues goalie prospect to come out of the Atlantic Provinces on Canada’s east coast. Jake Allen is from New Brunswick. Evan Fitzpatrick, a 2016 second-round pick who spent most of last season at Tulsa of the ECHL, is from Newfoundland.
“I guess they like the Maritimes boys,” Ellis said of the Blues’ scouting department.
Technically, Newfoundland isn’t considered a Maritime province. But you get the point — all three goalies are from the same neck of the woods in Canada.
Not only did Ellis play against Fitzpatrick in the Quebec League in 2017-18, they shared the same goalie coach last summer in Brad MacCharles of Halifax.
Small world, this hockey community. But not smaller than Ellis’ hometown in Nova Scotia. That would be River Denys.
“Maybe 20, or probably 30,” Ellis said.
Ellis laughed when asked if there was a McDonald’s in town.
“No, no. None of that,” he said. “There’s a Tim Hortons in Whycocomagh (population 800). But River Denys is just all your neighbors that you know pretty well. You know pretty well everybody in the community.”
It was there he grew up watching NHL goalies Jonathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury. He likes their athletic style and has tried to implement that in his game.
“Being kind of quick and explosive,” he said.
At the same time, Ellis said he tries to be positionally sound, reading plays and anticipating what might be coming. One goalie that he’ll definitely be watching more of now that he’s a Blues draft pick is Jordan Binnington.
“His story shows a lot of perseverance,” Ellis said. “That’s something that every goalie’s gotta have. You don’t know when you’re gonna get your shot or opportunity. But it just goes to show that you gotta stick with it, and you gotta fight through and battle. And that’s exactly what he did and he ended up winning a Stanley Cup.”
The Blues have had Ellis on their radar for a while, be it through meetings during the season or conversations at the NHL combine in Buffalo. So they definitely were among the teams Ellis thought might call his name at the draft.
Weeks before that happened, Ellis got caught up in a little Blues-mania, watching the team in the playoffs.
“Obviously from them going from last place to first, and ending up winning the Cup, that’s a team you’re gonna keep your eye on,” he said. “Throughout all the playoffs, they were definitely a team I was watching.”
Last week, just days after the Blues drafted him, Ellis found himself in a city much larger than River Denys, turning away pucks on Enterprise ice still adorned with the Stanley Cup Final 2019 logo at each blue line. . . . With the pride of Cape Breton, MacInnis, watching.
“I think it’s still all sinking in,” Ellis said. “It’s something that obviously every kid dreams about playing hockey, especially being drafted in the NHL. Stepping out on the ice, it still feels so surreal and it’s definitely a special moment for sure.”
The deadline for player buyouts came and went Sunday with — as usual — no activity on that front by the Blues. There had been some speculation that veteran Alexander Steen could be subject to a contract buyout.