As far as top defensive prospects available in the 2014 NHL Draft go, Aaron Ekblad is as good as they come.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranks Ekblad as the second-best North American skater and top among defensemen.
“He’s a big horse. He’s a stud,” said the Canes Director of Amateur Scouting, Tony MacDonald. “You can anchor your defense around this guy for 15 years. He’s NHL-ready now.”
By all accounts, Ekblad is already prepared for professional hockey both physically and mentally. Measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, the 18-year-old blue liner packs a sizeable frame. Ekblad is also a mature individual on and off the ice having already played three full seasons of junior hockey.
Ekblad became the first defenseman and just the second player in Canadian Hockey League history to be granted exceptional status, allowing him to begin his junior career at age 15 in a league of 16-20-year-olds. At the time, the only other player to have received that exemption was John Tavares in 2005.
|HOMETOWN: BELLE RIVER, ONTARIO |
|HEIGHT: 6'4" |
|WEIGHT: 216 |
|BIRTHDAY: FEB. 7, 1996 (AGE 18) |
Now, the Belle River, Ontario, native has three seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League under his belt. As a rookie in 2011-12, Ekblad ranked second among team defensemen in points with 29 (10g, 19a) in 63 games. In 13 postseason games, he was the team’s leading defensive scorer with five points (2g, 3a). In 2012-13, Ekblad again ranked second among team defensemen in points with 34 (7g, 27a) and was a team-second-best plus-29, helping Barrie capture the Central Division title. The Colts would go on to drop a heartbreaking seven-game series to London in the OHL Finals, losing the deciding game on a last-minute goal. Ekblad again was the team’s leading defensive scorer with 17 points (7g, 10a) and a plus-11 rating in 22 postseason games.
Ekblad captained the Colts in 2013-14 and was nearly a point-per-game producer. His 53 points (23g, 30a) ranked tied for third on the team and tied for fourth among all OHL defensemen.
“He’s got a bomb from the point. He can shoot the puck,” MacDonald said. “He defends well, and he’s hard to play against.”
As a 17-year-old, Ekblad skated for Team Canada in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. Even as the second-youngest player on the team, he regularly chewed up big minutes, paired alongside Pittsburgh prospect Derrick Pouliot. Offensively, he contributed a goal and an assist in seven tournament games.
“He was probably the best defenseman at the World Juniors this year as a 17-year-old, which is very rare,” MacDonald said.
Reports suggest that the Florida Panthers, who passed over prized defensive prospect Seth Jones in favor of power forward Aleksander Barkov in last year’s Draft, could take Ekblad first overall this year – and if they don’t, the teams picking next would surely salivate at the possibility of landing him. MacDonald can see why.
“He’s a man, and he’s strong. He’s mature physically and a mature individual as the captain of his team,” MacDonald said. “He’s maybe the most NHL-ready of the entire group.”