He entered the OHL under exceptional player status at only the age of 15; the only other player granted this special status at that point was John Tavares. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad was drafted first overall in that 2011 OHL Draft, and is likely first overall pick again, this time three years later for the NHL Draft come June in Philadelphia.
The captain of the Barrie Colts finished his year with 53 points in 58 games, also earning OHL Top All Star team and Top Defenseman honors. Blueliners like him are a rarity; which is why it seems that Dave Tallon and the Florida Panthers will select him with their first pick.
At 6’4 and 216 pounds, Ekblad is known for his hard shot (any – wrist, slap; I’m sure even his three pointers are awesome) and his reliable penalty killing. He’s usable on any special teams however, also able to quarterback a powerplay with great passing skills. His offensive and defensive awareness are both through the roof. His skating is near flawless. There are literally no weak points in this kid’s game.
He’s a born leader too, having worn the C for Team Ontario at the National U17 Championships in the 2012-2013 season, and also for Team Canada at the U18 Hlinka Memorial tournament this past year.
Teams don’t like to pick defensemen early in the draft, as they don’t get their return as quickly as they would with say a forward. Defense is a harder job in the NHL, and Ekblad knows that, but he’s mature and ready.
Many scouts have noticed his quiet confidence and his poise through all ends of the ice; however, they’ve also noticed he is mature beyond his years. Six scouts said at the NHL Combine that they would pick him first, no questions asked.
Whether it be Florida (number one), Buffalo (number two), or Edmonton (number three), really all NHL teams could use a star defenseman with size. Kingston’s Sam Bennett and Edmonton’s Sam Reinhart have been going back and forth with Ekblad as the top rated pick going into Philadelphia. Florida knows what they see, and should take Ekblad while they can.
The Panther’s record last year was a dismal 29-45-8. They were second last in goals against with an average of 3.20 per game, and second last in goals for with an average of 2.29 per game; Ekblad could assist largely in both, He could also on aid their lousy 10% efficient power play and 76% penalty kill. The 18-year-old sees the ice and knows his position. Though younger, could easily grow the games of Gudbranson and Kulikov, while still learning from Campbell and Jovonovski. He’s the most NHL ready of all the prospects Florida could grab.
The boy first played at the midget level at age 14. He was Rookie of the Year in 2011-2012 with Barrie. Ekblad knows what he’s doing.
“When I walked into the testing room, seeing all the scouts, you get a little nervous. But once you do one or two things I’m like, I’m good at this, I’m prepared for this. Just have to relax and get it done,” Ekblad said at the NHL Combine. Can’t you see him saying the same thing after his first few NHL games?
“I’m very happy with what I showed while I was here,” he said later at the combine. “I worked my absolute hardest. Any time you push yourself to the max it’s pretty interesting to see how far you can go.”
How about all the way to the big leagues, Aaron? The Florida sunshine would look good on you.