Defenseman Nick Ebert was supposed to be “the next big thing” as he represented yet another highly skilled player coming out of the new hockey hotbed of New Jersey. At 15 years old, in 2009-10 he played in the highly competitive USHL and held his own with competition who were at times five years his senior. From the USHL he jumped to the Windsor Spitfires in the elite Ontario Hockey League in 2010 where he looked to join the likes of Ed Jovanovski and Cam Fowler as elite NHL defensemen to emerge from Windsor’s program. After posting an impressive 41 points in 64 games in 2010-11 as an OHL rookie, Ebert went into his draft year of 2011-12 with all the makings of being a first-round selection, likely in the top 10.
Then it all came apart.
Ebert struggled mightily as he failed to improve upon his rookie totals and struggled with turnovers, poor defensive play and inconsistency. As Ebert was going through these struggles questions about his character and work ethic swirled around him. The once highly touted player free fell in the draft and not only slipped out of the top portion of the 2012 draft but all the way to the very last pick. The Los Angeles Kings scooped up Ebert with the 211th pick and gave him a clean slate for his last two years of junior hockey and beyond.
After showing more signs of inconsistency during a 2012-13 season where the Spitfires drastically underachieved, things started to fall back in place for Ebert this past season. Despite being left off Team USA’s World Junior Championship roster, Ebert’s play through 27 games with the Spitfires was amazing. In those 27 games, Ebert posted 20 points and was plus-20, a marked improvement from his two previous years.
After 27 games, Ebert was traded to the Guelph Storm, an OHL powerhouse and his play saw even more improvements. The Storm went all the way to the championship game of the Memorial Cup. Ebert was a key contributor, posting 33 points and registering plus-31 in 38 regular season games before adding 16 points in 20 playoff games.
Following the Storm’s heartbreaking loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings, Ebert signed an entry-level deal with the Kings that will kick in next season. He will likely start his pro career with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs, but his NHL future isn’t as murky as it was a year ago.
Perhaps Ebert “peaked too early” and may never be the superstar he was thought to be at age 16. As far as the Kings go, that is fine, as Ebert won’t be asked to be a superstar on L.A.’s blue line. If he can move the puck and continue his development there is a good chance he becomes a solid NHL player, which would be an amazing return on investment. Not too bad for a kid who would be “Mr. Irrelevant” as NFL Draft gurus would say.