Thursday, September 16, 2021

Hofer, Ellis offer Blues strong foundation for organizational depth in goal

2018, 2019 draft picks will be showcased this weekend during Traverse 
City Prospect Tournament; competition has helped pair become closer

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Right now, the present and future of goaltending with the Blues belongs to Jordan Binnington.

His six-year, $36 million contract extension he signed on March 11 kicks in this season, a contract he earned with his play helping the Blues achieve the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup in 2019 and subsequent seasons after by helping get the team back to the playoffs.
(Canadian Press photo)
Blues prospect Joel Hofer (right) makes a save during the 2020 World
Junior Championship. Hofer is expected to play in the AHL this season.

But the next wave of Blues goaltending has been in town this week and will showcase their talents beginning Friday at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament with 2018 fourth-round pick Joel Hofer and 2019 third-round pick Colten Ellis.

And for two Canadian guys, one from Winnipeg (Hofer) and the other from Antigonish, Nova Scotia (Ellis) that were drafted in consecutive years looking to gain a foothold over the other on the organization's depth chart, they've become good friends searching for the same objective.

"He's a great guy," Hofer said of Ellis. "Can't say enough good things about him. He's obviously a battler. He had a good year last year. It's good, friendly competition. It's great."

Ellis added: "I met him a couple years ago. It was nice to see a familiar face come into camp, but being able to kind of watch him and see what he does throughout the day and in practices and just kind of seeing if that will help my game as well. It's nice to have some good, friendly competition."

For the 21-year-old Hofer, who backstopped Canada to the 2020 World Junior championship by posting a 1.30 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, his work with the main squad last season puts him in line to be the organization's No. 3 goalie behind Binnington and Ville Husso, which puts him in line to be the top goalie at the American Hockey League's Springfield Thunderbirds this season, a role he is looking forward to, and one that will be important to his development because should something happen to Binnington and/or Husso, Hofer will be the one thrust to the NHL.

"Every goalie here want to play games," Hofer said. "I think that's going to be great for me, but I'm just going one day at a time and focus on the things I can control and see where it takes me.

"I feel really good right now. I had a really good off-season. I talked to the goalie (coaches) prior to the summer and had a plan on things to work on during the summer. I really focused on those things and coming into camp, I thought I've done those things pretty well and I think it's helped me. Just trying to keep going one day at a time and keep trying to get better every day."

Hofer spend a good portion of last season in St. Louis working with the big boys but also was able to get to Utica (N.Y.) to play with the AHL's Comets, going 4-6-0 with a 3.33 GAA and .898 save percentage. Prior to that, Hofer was 34-8-5 with a 2.49 GAA and .915 save percentage in 2019-20 with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks.

"I got a lot out of both," Hofer said of last season. "Being here was amazing. I got to see 'Binner' and 'Huus' and they do what they do and go on the road and get a feel of what they go through on a daily basis, but then again, it was great to play games and get back into rhythm."

The 20-year-old Ellis, despite playing in just 24 games, couldn't have asked for a better season with the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was 23-1-0 with a league-leading 1.78 GAA and .926 save percentage in leading the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs.

"I think we were very fortunate to be able to play," Ellis said. "A lot of teams in Canada and the CHL didn't have that opportunity. Even in the second half, I think we only played two teams until playoffs came around. It was great to get to play and to play in an organization like Charlottetown, it was awesome to be there and meet all the guys and get to see the city and all that stuff. I was very fortunate that I was able to get some games in and we were able to play.

"My confidence definitely did grow just working on not necessarily from seeing the numbers themselves, but just feelings in practice and doing some work with the (Islanders) goalie coach, Paul Drew, closely, and kind of fine-tuning some deals like that. Just over time, we were able to kind of pick apart my game a little bit and try and improve on small areas and do some fine-tuning."

Ellis knows right now he's fourth on the depth chart behind Hofer and realizes that for him to grow within the organization, he needs to continue to develop properly and open eyes when the opportunities are presented.

"I think for me, my goal is to just make a good impression and compete and work hard every day and do all the little details right and just bring my game to another level and see where that takes me," Ellis said. "... You look at the guys in the organization from last year to even this year too. It's like anywhere you go, there's going to be a lot of competition. The guys that have been playing here for a while are obviously here for a reason and the best around. To get to kind of watch them in practice and look at the details they pay close attention to is definitely very awesome to be able to see everything that they go throughout the day."

There's no doubt that the Blues have a pair of goalies that will push the limits on how far up the depth chart they can go. Binnington is locked in for the next six seasons, but Husso will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and depending on how he performs this season, there could be an opening to move up even closer should the chance arise, especially for Hofer if he plays well at Springfield this season.

"He's made some big strides," Blues director of player development Tim Taylor said of Hofer. "He looks bigger, he looks stronger in the net, his pushoffs look stronger. He takes up a little more of the net now. We're expecting him to be the No. 1 guy in Springfield and really push to get in the lineup at some point, some day. Goalies take a little longer for development, but it's nice to see his progression, his development. He'll be a guy that will play most of the minutes in Traverse City. We expect him to be our third guy in the organization, so he's got to be ready and keep progressing.

"Ellis had a great year last year with the records that he set. We were pleasantly surprised with him as well. When you draft these guys, you just don't know what their work ethic is like and where they're going to end up in a year or two but he's made some big strides as well. ... He's coming into his first year of pro so we're looking for him to make some big strides this year and keep progressing as a goalie."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie prospect Colten Ellis was 23-1 with a 1.78 GAA and .926 save
percentage with Charlottetown of the QMJHL last season.

Hofer will get the majority of the minutes in Traverse City this weekend when the Blues open pool play Friday against Toronto (2 p.m.), Saturday against Detroit (6 p.m.) and Monday against Dallas (11 a.m.) but it's a chance for each to get game action and to get back in the groove again.

And continue to prove each belongs.

"I think this will be my third time in Traverse," Hofer said. "Every time it's always fun. It's a good bonding moment to get to know the guys a little bit better. We play mini pod or whatever it is and just hanging out with the guys playing cards, or whatever it is, but it's definitely fun getting in some game action before main camp."

"I was there a couple years ago. It's a fun weekend," Ellis said. "We've got three games in four days. It's always fun to travel with the guys and be around everybody and get to kind of experience the lifestyle of what it's like to play pro hockey. Just go up there and showcase what I've got and it'll be a lot of fun."

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