If the Florida Panthers retain the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, they likely will select Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad out of the Ontario Hockey League, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound defenseman is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2014 draft.
"Ekblad is this year's player most likely ready to step in and play in the NHL," Panthers director of scouting Scott Luce told the Sun Sentinel last week. "He's physically mature and has got lots of mileage underneath him at the OHL level.''
Whether the Panthers keep the pick, however, remains in question. Tallon has made no secret of his willingness to trade the pick, and told the Toronto Star recently that he has received one "fair offer" for the selection. Among the teams the Sun-Sentinel report to have shown interest in acquiring the pick are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Ekblad was the second player ever granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada and allowed to enter the Ontario Hockey League at age 15; he was taken by Barrie with the first pick of the 2011 OHL draft and has continued to develop and succeed. This season he led all OHL defensemen with 23 goals and had 53 points, and was named the league's top defenseman. He also earned a spot on Canada's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"He's smart and an excellent all-around skater for his size," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said of Ekblad. "He handles and distributes the puck well in all zones, passes with authority and possesses an accurate shot from the point."