The 6-foot-4, 214-pound Ekblad played for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League. He is the first defenceman to go No. 1 since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006.
Without a clear cut No. 1, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was open to trading the pick. In the end, he decided to take the 18-year-old defenceman with the first selection at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Panthers had a top-three pick in the NHL draft for the fourth time in the past five years. The first three — defenceman Erik Gudbranson (in 2010), wing Jonathan Huberdeau (2011) and centre Aleksander Barkov (2013) — all played significant roles last season.
He's only 17 but he can see the ice so well and he moves the puck and goes to the open ice all the time, so I just think he's a player that is ready to play in the NHL. I'm really looking forward to coaching someone like this.
— U.S. National Junior Team coach Ron Wilson on Auston Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft