Aaron Ekblad: “I want to be on that opening night roster”

As Aaron Ekblad settles into life in South Florida for his big push towards making the Panthers’ roster as an 18-year-old, it should be apparent to Panthers fans that this will be the first time that Ekblad has faced any sort of adversity as a hockey player. This isn’t to say that you can expect any sort of Lindrosian behavior from the Belle River, Ontario native; the honor roll student is touted for his complete game as a defenseman, more than justifying the fact that he is just one of four players to date to have been granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada.

What strikes you immediately (besides his model-esque appearance) is Ekblad’s ability to walk a tightrope between confidence and meekness. When asked if he had spoken with veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell–a signing I have lauded as a great move by Dale Tallon, not just for the development of Ekblad, but for the progression of the defensive corps as a whole–he said that it “…would be awesome to meet Willie Mitchell,” as if he were hoping the veteran d-man would stop by his locker to extol the virtues of using longer sticks in the NHL.

His performance–to date–is anything but vague. What excited Hockey Canada about the 15-year-old has only matured as he’s grown. Now, the 6’3 216 lbs. blue liner is known for his all-around game, excelling just as much on special teams as he does at even strength. His one-timer is considered lethal, and while he doesn’t do it very often, he’s more than willing to drop the gloves to prove a point. Some have compared his style of play to legendary defenseman Denis Potvin, a favorable comparison that Ekblad takes with a grain of salt. “All comparisons are good, especially to guys who have had storied careers,” Ekblad said, while adding “I want to pave my own path in the NHL.”

With the uncertainty as to what his role will be with the organization next year, Ekblad has a few things going in his favor. For one, the Panthers have only four defensemen locked in as starters (at this point): Erik Gudbranson, Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell, and Dmitry Kulikov. Another is that he is right-handed, something only one of the four assumed starters (Gudbranson) can boast. Although he’s 18, his two-way game and size should translate well to the NHL, something that naturally keeps 18-year-olds in junior hockey for at least another year or two.

“I want to be on that opening night roster,” Ekblad said. “I want to be given that opportunity and I think if I do, I’ll be able to run with it.”

Along with the natural spark that adding an 18-year-old, former number one overall pick to the fold, is the Panthers much publicized power play woes. Ekblad’s play could easily bolster a unit that shot a comically low 7.6%, while serving to boost the play of Brian Campbell, who could settle into the power play quarterback role, setting up Ekblad’s big one timer.

Aside from Ekblad and Alex Petrovic, who is entering the last year of his entry-level deal, the Panthers have Dylan Olsen and Colby Robak, who would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the AHL. Additionally, Shane O’Brien was invited to camp, and Greg Zanon was signed to a one year, two-way contract.

Like Vincent Trocheck, it’s the options the Panthers have in Ekblad, and that they can send him back to his junior team, that are stacked against him. With that in mind, Ekblad obviously has nothing else to learn in the OHL, as his 23 goals and 30 assists in 58 games would suggest.

If all Ekblad wants is to clear his own path in the NHL, his route thus far is a pretty good start.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] could potentially fill a lot of holes for the Panthers this season. As John Siegel noted over at PantherParkway.com, there are only four defenders locked into roles at the NHL level heading into 2014-15, meaning […]

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