With the NCAA Hockey season nearing its ultimate conclusion, the Maple Leafs snapped up one of the more coveted undrafted free agents in Notre Dame’s Max Ellis.
Ellis will join the Toronto Marlies on a professional tryout for the remainder of the 2021-22 season and the playoffs, according to the organization:
🖊 We’ve signed forward Max Ellis to a two-year, entry-level contract beginning in the 2022-23 season. #LeafsForever
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 8, 2022
Ellis is an undersized forward who was Notre Dame’s leading scorer this past season, tallying 16 goals and 28 points in 39 games. The Canton, MI, native played in the USHL from 2016-19 for four different teams before matriculating at Notre Dame during the summer of 2019.
Ellis is currently listed by the team at 5’9″, 165 lbs., which is a significant improvement from where he started his career. He arrived on campus at 145 lbs. and needed to put on more weight in order to thrive in Jeff Jackson’s tight-checking, defensive system. Ellis played only eight games as a freshman in 2019-20 due to illness, scoring only one goal, and he needed to round into better physical shape to succeed.
After working on his physical condition, Ellis got into 24 of Notre Dame’s 29 games in 2020-21 and scored five goals and 16 points, playing more comfortably in the Irish top six. Following the departure of leading scorer Alex Steeves (also a Maple Leafs signee), Notre Dame needed another scorer to step up. Ellis rose to that occasion as a junior this season, especially in the first half.
Ellis led the team with 16 goals and 28 points this past season, but one must recognize that a considerable amount of that production came in the 2021 portion of the season. Ellis sported an 11-9-20 line through the season’s first 15 games, but he slumped in the back half, scoring only five goals and three assists in the final 24 games. That included a 13-game goal-less drought to conclude the season.
Still, this is not to diminish what Ellis achieved early in the season or the skills he boasts. There is a decent amount of skill in his game, he possesses a solid shot, and he can handle the puck. Ellis has improved defensively and in the physical aspect of the game, as nearly every Notre Dame forward does. He has blocked more shots than in the past, shown more awareness in the defensive zone, banged around the net-front, and been more effective off the cycle.
Ellis played on Notre Dame’s power play, as well as their penalty kill, which was among the best PKs in the NCAA this season. Here are a few highlights from Ellis’ top moment of the season, which was a hat trick against then-#1 Michigan:
A B1G time win required some B1G time playing.
Max Ellis of @NDHockey did just that. He counted three goals on Saturday night – one being a game winner in OT, helping the Irish complete a sweep of Michigan on the road.
He’s the @B1GHockey first star of the week!
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 23, 2021
Ellis is going to be a developmental piece who will need time with the Marlies to have a shot at playing in the NHL. He probably will need to add even more weight/muscle and his skating may need to improve a bit more to be effective in transition in the pros.
It’s a bit of a stab in the dark, but Notre Dame produces so many fundamentally sound hockey players that it’s worth a flier to see if it is possible to unearth the next Jake Evans to fill out the bottom six.