I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was another boring summer day, because this season is overrated and completely terrible, with one brief highlight: the release of the Jewels From the Crown "Top 25 Under 25" final voting tally and writing assignments. Eagerly I scanned the list to see who finished where, how many of my own picks were left off the list entirely (not as many as I was expecting!), and of course most importantly, who I'd be writing about in this exciting new series. My eyes scanned the list over, noting a few would be more fun than others. And then, I saw it. His name. My name. Together.
I would be writing about.....Keaton Ellerby.
|16(t)||Keaton Ellerby||11/5/1988||CAN||10th (1st round, FLA)||82|
Now, you might think I'm being a little overdramatic here. After all, Keaton represents a bit of a milestone for the Top 25 Under 25 list: he's the first player so far to actually play in a single NHL game. And while Keaton certainly deserves credit for reaching the greatest hockey league in the world, all that really means is Mr. Ellerby has the least potential of anyone on the 2012-13 Kings roster. Congratulations, Third-Best-Keaton*!
Keaton was, perhaps inexplicably, originally drafted tenth overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2007 NHL entry draft. Apparently they took one look at his 25 points in 69 WHL games in his draft year and said "boy we can't let THIS GUY get away!" (a good general rule of thumb: do not draft defensemen who can't produce a ton of points in junior, especially not with a pick as high as tenth overall). Just for fun, I decided to check the 2007 NHL draft and see who else the Panthers could have taken with that tenth pick:
-11th: Brandon Sutter
-12th: Ryan McDonagh
-13th: Lars Eller
-14th: Kevin Shattenkirk (!!!)
-22nd: Max Pacioretty
-26th: David Perron
-43rd: P.K. Subban
-52nd: Oscar Moller
So Florida could have had a Sutter, an awesome young defenseman, a great young forward, or a talking point/incessant complaint for their fanbase (when is Oscar coming backkkkkk?). All better than Keaton Ellerby. On the other hand, they also could have had a bunch of guys who never played a single NHL game. Yay Florida? I guess?
We'll fast-forward through his rather unremarkable career (it's kinda impressive/weird he had the exact same point total in the WHL in 07-08 & the AHL in 08-09, I guess) to
2012-13. The LA Kings, already down one defenseman in Willie Mitchell, lost their dependable caveman-impersonator Matt Greene to injury in the very first game of the season. Suddenly their back-end, once considered their greatest strength, was looking awfully thin. As the saying goes, it's always darkest before dawn. In this case, the darkness was "a lack of defensemen with NHL experience", and the dawn was "Keaton Ellerby". So Dean Lombardi jumped into action! On February 6th, 2013, Lombardi took Andrei Loktionov, a small, skilled center who had yet to earn a consistent spot in LA's lineup, and traded him to the New Jersey Devils for their 2013 5th round draft pick. Two days later, Lombardi would take that draft pick and trade it to the Florida Panthers, for our man of the hour, Keaton Ellerby. So yes, while I promised myself I wouldn't turn this whole article into "we basically traded Lokti for you, Keaton!".....we basically traded Lokti for you, Keaton.
(I think I liked the darkness better.)
Loktionov would end up with 12 points in 28 games as a Devil, is still only 23-years-old, and almost certainly would have finished much higher in this ranking if he was stlll a King than "tied with Kozun for 16th". Ellerby would go on to....well....be a guy who played defense for the Kings, I guess. He certainly wasn't completely terrible or anything; there were plenty of games last season where Ellerby would play and you wouldn't notice him at all, and that's about the best you can expect out of a guy like Keaton. He had 3 assists in his 35 games with the Kings last year, absolutely none of which I can remember at all, so I'm guessing they weren't beautiful, cross-ice feeds or anything. He had, at best, "flashes of competence" with the Kings. But if someone told you the game was on the line and you're trying to hold onto a 1-goal lead, he was maybe the seventh defenseman you would want out on the ice, right after "strapping skates onto Darryl Sutter and hope his facial expressions are too distracting"**. He didn't exactly inspire confidence, is what I'm trying to say here.
So what's his future with the Kings? Does he even have one at all? Ideally, he should be behind Alec Martinez on the Kings' defensive depth chart, but in practice Sutter has been far more willing to sit poor Alec in the press box, for whatever reason. The Kings also have a logjam at defense, with a total of eight players on one-way contracts. His future will depend largely on a couple of factors: 1) is Willie Mitchell really going to be able to make a comeback this season? & 2) will The Jeff Schultz Experiment work out? Keaton could easily find himself on waivers this season, should one or both of these things end up happening (although Schultz has been described to me as "basically a pylon on skates" from Caps fans who watched him lately, so don't hold your breath on that one). Regardless, Keaton Ellerby enters the season as either the 7th or 8th defenseman at best. He played 35 out of the Kings' 48 games this past year, and I would honestly be surprised if he matches that total in a full 82-game season this year, barring another round of terrible injuries and/or random Alec Martinez benchings.
Keaton Ellerby is exactly what he is at this point: a guy who might give you some solid or at least not-entirely-awful third-pairing minutes, but is prone to looking like a complete idiot at times. It's tough to see him improving much from what he is now, even to a more consistently solid third-pairing type. Remember, the Florida Panthers liked him enough at one point to spend a 10th overall pick on him, and coach Kevin Dineen had basically decided to stop using him by the time the Kings came calling about a trade. "Not good enough to play defense for the Florida Panthers" is not exactly something I'd want on my resume. And that, folks, is Keaton Ellerby. Hopefully he plays like 12 games this year. But you made it to the best league in the world, Keaton, and no one can ever take that away from you. Enjoy the press box popcorn!
*"third-best-Keaton" because he's not as attractive as in-his-prime Michael Keaton, nor as funny as Buster Keaton. so at best, third-best-Keaton.
**yes, I know Darryl Sutter was technically a LW when he played. shut up.