When the Flyers rose from the ashes of the abysmal 2006-07 season, new general manager Paul Holmgren quickly put together a team that ascended through the ranks of the NHL in just a few short years. The talented group of players was elevated from good to great when they acquired superstar defenseman Chris Pronger, who stabilized the blue line and brought a veteran leadership presence to the team, giving them the confidence needed to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
A decade has passed since that magical run, and the Flyers are once again flirting with the potential of being great. Though they need that one face to stand above the crowd. They need that one guy that can elevate the team from middling bubble team to legitimate contender. It’s time to wonder, who is this generation’s Chris Pronger?
It’s a question that Chuck Fletcher may have answered during the offseason when he acquired 30-year-old defenseman Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators. Ellis is a veteran of 562 games over 10 seasons. He was an alternate captain for the Predators since 2017 and carried a heavy workload, including being a key contributor in their 2017 Stanley Cup run.
In terms of talent, he may be the biggest addition the Flyers have added to their defense corps since Pronger.
The list of additions since the Pronger trade hasn’t exactly been impressive. Since June 26, 2009, the Flyers have acquired via trade- Andrej Meszaros, Matt Walker, the pick that drafted Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Grossmann, Pavel Kubina, Luke Schenn, Kent Huskins, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, the pick that drafted Mark Friedman, Radko Gudas, Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun.
What a motley crue.
Now to be fair, most of the additions to the Flyers’ blue line over the last few years were all internal. Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and even Brandon Manning rose through the ranks of the Flyers development system that started as either draft picks or undrafted free agents.
The recent additions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun both played far bigger roles for the team than expected, but Niskanen’s retirement and Braun’s age have prevented them from being the game-changing talent they could’ve become.
The importance of someone like Ellis on the roster goes above just the talent and experience he himself brings. He’ll fill the top right-handed defenseman role on the Flyers roster. It marks the first time in his career that Ivan Provorov will have a legitimate top player in the peak of his career to rise shotgun with, not just for one season, but for the foreseeable future. Not only is he here to bring his own game, but he’s also here to elevate Provorov’s as well, yet another talent Pronger brought to the table. When Pronger came to town, he elevated Matt Carle to a passable level whilst playing at a high level himself. Now, that’s not to compare Provorov to Carle as the former is in a different class entirely, but steading Provorov and giving him a true knowledge tree to rest under is a much needed role.
Nobody in today’s game can truly fill the shoes of Chris Pronger, but finding that spiritual successor has been something on the Flyers’ to-do list for over a decade. It’s a hefty expectation to saddle Ellis with before he has even played a game for the Flyers, but it’s the kind of role he will have to handle. Luckily, all the pressure won’t be on him. The entire Flyers’ defense was re-built this summer and Ellis will share the expectation load with Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle, both of which the fanbase will be quicker to judge than Ellis. Though from an importance standpoint, the Flyers really need Ellis to workout both now and in the future. He’ll be the de facto leader both on the ice and in the room. So while he not be the same level, he’ll have to channel his inner Pronger and the weight will be on him to carry this team to the promised land.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: atozsportsnashville.com / couruerpostonline.com