2015 Top 25 Under 25, #19: Nick Ebert
Nick Ebert is poised to have a Colin Miller-like breakout this season.
Fun fact: The Manchester Monarchs went 8-0-0 when Nick Ebert scored a goal last year.
However, that didn't stop the solidly-built 6'1" blueliner from being a constant scratch throughout his AHL debut. 2012's "Mr. Irrelevant" dressed only 45 games in the regular season and just twice during Manchester's Calder Cup-winning turn. Is this something to be concerned about?
In 2013-14, another offensively-minded Monarchs rearguard struggled in his rookie AHL campaign. His name? Colin Miller.
The parallels don't end there. Both Ebert and Miller were '12 draft picks. Both enjoyed breakout OHL sendoffs before rough debuts in Manchester. Both are exciting skaters and shooters.
Whoa. Didn't Miller take home AHL Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot titles last year? Am I predicting the same for Ebert?
Not quite. But he's plenty mobile, according to Scott Walker, his Guelph Storm head coach:
"I’d be hard pressed to find another player in our league – that I’ve seen in a while - that skates so well...He doesn’t exude a lot of energy when he takes off...he can stay fresh because he’s a smooth skater."
It was his shot that impressed Manchester head coach Mike Stothers:
"He’s got a heckuva shot, as you saw. He really can unload a puck."
Lest we forget, Ebert was voted the OHL Western Conference's hardest shot in a 2014 coaches poll and won a CHL hardest shot competition in 2012.
For better and for worse, both defenders are daring with the puck. Like Miller a couple years ago, Ebert's overall game still needs much polish:
Despite a heavy slap shot, Stothers noted that Ebert is working on getting the puck off his stick quicker to get it through traffic in front of the net on a more regular basis.
"When you have a shot like that, it’s never a bad play to just put it on the net in the first place."
Adjusting to an increased pace is a common challenge for many defenders transitioning from the amateur to the professional ranks. Not surprisingly, Ebert botched his share of defensive reads last year.
But there's one big difference between Ebert and Miller: The 21-year-old is over a year younger than the prized Boston prospect. So coming into this fall, Ebert is in the exact position as Miller was before the latter's All-Star campaign.
Can Ebert put together the high-end tools which have tantalized scouts since he was 15?
It's not going to be easy.
When camp opens, Ontario will be site of a blueline battle royale. At least two NHL-worthy defenders (Derek Forbort, Jamie McBain, or Jeff Schultz) should be regulars, along with returning stalwarts Kevin Gravel and Vincent LoVerde. Incoming prospects Alex Lintuniemi, Zac Leslie, and Kurtis MacDermid will also be fighting to stick. And as of now, even recent second-round pick Erik Cernak is a candidate to suit up for the defending champs.
So Ebert is at a bit of a crossroads in his growth. A lot of eyes will be on him, as he's one of LA's few prospects with significant offensive upside. If he manages to stand out this season, the Kings will have carved themselves out another blueline gem.