The Florida Panthers selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad first overall in the 2014 NHL draft because they felt he was the most pro-ready prospect in the draft. His mature frame and attitude made him a shoo-in for the top of the draft, where general manager Dale Tallon resisted tempting trade offers in favor of standing pat and adding the first blue liner to go first overall in the draft since Erik Johnson in 2006. Now the next step lies ahead of Ekblad: making the opening day roster for the Panthers.
George Richards of the Miami Herald writes that Ekblad will be given every opportunity to prove himself worthy of an NHL roster right away. “There are a series of milestones and I have to perform and prove that I’m ready at each one of them,” Ekblad said per the article. “I’m obviously going to get the chance, but I have to prove myself. I can’t rest on my laurels, rest on where I was drafted. I consider all of us as equals.”
His attitude has been as sharp as his play was last year for the OHL’s Barrie Colts, but will that be enough for Ekblad to crack the opening day roster? Former Panther captain and defenseman Brian McCabe seems to think so. “He has handled the pressure thus far, there’s no reason to think he won’t now. He is very mature for his age.”
We’ll learn more in September when training camp opens in the NHL. Until then, Ekblad will have to content himself with hard menial work to prepare for the long grind of an NHL season.