Anthony Nellis spent 15 games with the Komets in the spring of 2019 – 10 in the regular season and five in the playoffs – on the heels of a college career at Lake Superior State. He's gone on to good things since: 2019 NHL training camp with the Dallas Stars, three games with the American Hockey League's Texas Stars last season, and 15 goals and 29 points in 47 games with the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads.
“When I look back, being (with the Komets) really helped me see what it was like at the pro level, have a good base at the pro level,” Nellis said. “We had a good team and reached the playoffs. Just to experience the playoffs and other things during that season, like the traveling and how demanding it is on the body, it definitely helped me prepare for the next season and realize what I needed to accomplish in the summer.”
Nellis, a 26-year-old center, is among 23 players on Fort Wayne's roster heading into Monday's first day of training camp.
Thirteen teams are more than a month into the season, and 12 have opted out, leaving Fort Wayne as the only team yet to start. Its opener is Feb. 12 at Wheeling, West Virginia.
The roster is packed with talented forwards – including newcomers Justin Vaive, Brandon Hawkins and Zach Pochiro – but Nellis has a bit of an edge when it comes to making the squad. He was successful at Memorial Coliseum before and has worked with head coach Ben Boudreau and assistant Olivier Legault, who were on Gary Graham's staff in 2019.
“(My 2019 experience with Fort Wayne) definitely has helped me in the long run, getting to where I am right now and having a spot in hockey when those are pretty rare this year,” said Nellis, who totaled six goals and 10 points in his 15 games with the Komets, who valued him enough to put him on special teams.
As a senior at Lake Superior State, the native of Breakeyville, Quebec, totaled 15 goals and 33 points in 38 games and was on the radars of AHL teams before joining Fort Wayne.
“I'm someone who does a lot of things well on the ice but doesn't have one specific thing that people look at me and say, 'OK, that's his weapon.' I can score goals, I can assist on goals. I have a really good work ethic, and that's what I take pride in,” said Nellis, who added he embraces forechecking, defense and special teams. “It's not that I have one specific thing, but I'm a really good two-way forward.”
That helped him get to training camp in 2019 with the Dallas Stars.
“It was a mix of emotions (at training camp). I was nervous to go there and didn't know what to expect,” Nellis said. “Obviously, Dallas has a very good roster, very elite players. Some of them were pretty old; you used to watch them on TV for eight, nine, 10 years. Going to share the ice with those guys was very special. It was very intense ... and very demanding. As of right now in my career, it's probably the greatest experience I've had with hockey.”
He bounced between the ECHL and AHL last season, skating in Idaho alongside Marco Roy, who was reacquired by the Komets in a trade over the summer.
Nellis, 6 feet, 185 pounds, was available for the Komets because Idaho opted out of this season. He won the Steelheads' Bill Campbell Community Service Award, at least in part for making several visits to schools in the Boise, Idaho, area where youngsters got a kick out of his French-Canadian accent.
Nellis hasn't had much time on the ice the last 10 months – pandemic restrictions are more stringent in Quebec – and he's still among those awaiting immigration work visas to get to Fort Wayne. General manager David Franke said he's optimistic everyone will be here on time, though some players may have to quarantine after they arrive pending COVID-19 test results.
The Komets should this week formally announce the signing of forward Travis Howe, multiple sources confirmed, adding some toughness in the wake of Kyle Haas' retirement. Howe, 26, who is 6-4, 235 pounds, spent 24 games last season with Greenville and totaled two goals, nine points and 52 penalty minutes. He's racked up as many as 234 penalty minutes, over 50 games with Utah in 2016-17, and has one game of AHL experience.
Fort Wayne is also negotiating with forward Nolan LaPorte, 28, who had 16 goals and 39 points in 47 games last season with Scotland's Glasgow Clan. LaPorte, who has played in the ECHL for Atlanta, Florida and Quad City, had signed with Toledo before the Walleye opted out Jan. 5. The Komets have also signed Hawkins and Randy Gazzola from the Toledo roster.