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Career advancement

Three weeks ago Keaton Ellerby was languishing as a healthy scratch in L.A.; now the waiver wire pickup is salvaging his career in Winnipeg

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There's a maturity in Keaton Ellerby's voice, the kind of been-there/done-that experience that comes from bouncing around the NHL from Florida to Los Angeles to right here and right now in River City.

It's far from a cocky or told-you-so tone but, instead, one that still offers both a hint of confidence and a hope that given this latest opportunity with the Winnipeg Jets, his story will be one of promise finally fulfilled.

"You know, it's funny," said Ellerby after Jets' practice on Wednesday, "everybody's drafted when they're 17 or 18 years old and people instantly expect stuff from you that I don't know if a normal 17- or 18-year-old would have that expected of them.

"For some guys it comes easier, for others it takes some time. I spent some time in the minors to build my game, I've gone through the Florida system and learned some stuff there before my amazing experience in L.A. And then you get that phone call and you're off to someplace else.

"You have to live day by day and try to keep learning and not dwell on things that might not have gone well in the past. You've just got to keep moving forward."

And that, in a nutshell, might just be the perfect description of Ellerby's pro career to date. He's been labelled for years -- back to his days in the Western Hockey League with the Kamloops Blazers and Moose Jaw Warriors -- as one of those big dudes dripping with potential.

But while patience is often preached at the NHL level, it's not always practised. And so even though the Florida Panthers made him the 10th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft -- picks 11 through 14 were Brandon Sutter, Ryan McDonagh, Lars Eller and Kevin Shattenkirk -- they shipped him to the Kings last February for a fifth-round pick.

And so Ellerby, who turned 25 a couple of weeks ago, had his spot on the depth chart gobbled up by another Panthers first-round draft pick in Erik Gudbrandson (third overall in 2010) and was moved along after all of 125 games in the organization.

But the change of scenery from east to west coast seemed perfect for him, especially after he appeared in 35 regular-season and five playoff games for the Kings last winter and then signed a new contract in July.

Still, with Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene back from injury this year -- those two vets played five games combined due to injury last season -- Ellerby was squeezed out of the starting lineup and into the press box.

And scarfing down popcorn while watching from above is no way for a guy to reach his potential.

"I was still sleeping when I got the call I had been picked up on waivers, to be honest with you, with it being early in the morning with the time change and everything," said Ellerby. "(Kings coach) Darryl Sutter and (assistant GM) Rob Blake both called me and said, 'You're going to Winnipeg. You're going to have a great opportunity there and it sucks to see you leave, but we don't want to hurt you or your career by having you sitting around and not doing much so we're happy for you and best of luck.'

"It's been good for me. You're not getting better sitting in the press box and not playing games. I mean, you can learn some things and see some stuff but, ultimately, you have to be on the ice learning and getting better that way. Being here has been awesome so far. It was cool being in L.A. and being part of that environment right after they won the Cup... it was a good stepping stone for myself and for my career. But I just can't say it enough how thankful I am to be here playing and getting that chance."

And so far, so good. Ellerby has appeared in eight games with the Jets and, with the recent injury to Zach Bogosian -- along with those that have shelved Mark Stuart, Jacob Trouba and Paul Postma -- he's been playing alongside Toby Enstrom in the second defensive pairing.

Not bad for a guy now with his third team after being cast adrift twice in 10 months.

"You can't let stuff like that get you down," said Ellerby. "I'm young still. I just turned 25. I've got some time to keep building my game and learning. I want to be a student of the game and in the short time I've been here the coaching staff has been great, just as was the staff in L.A.

"You never want to doubt yourself. You want to be confident and do what you did to get you to this point and try to learn every day. If I can do that hopefully I'll have a long career."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2013 D2

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Updated on Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 8:42 AM CST: Removes stats

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