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Aaron Ekblad mimics LeBron James' title goals

Panthers defenseman wants to win 'one or two or three or four' championships

NHL.com @NHL

Aaron Ekblad took a page out of LeBron James' playbook when describing what he'd like to accomplish in South Florida.

"You just have to be a consistent winning team," the Florida Panthers defenseman said at a press conference Thursday, according to the Sun Sentinel. "You're not going to win a championship every single year, but you want to be a contender.

"You want to be up there and you do want to win one or two or three or four."

Ekblad mimicked the words James said after joining the NBA's Miami Heat in 2010, setting a high bar for the number of championships he expected to win.

After signing an eight-year contract extension reportedly worth $60 million on July 1, many view Ekblad as the face of the Panthers, a notion he graciously declined.

Video: Aaron Ekblad signs eight-year extension with Panthers

"It's a pleasure to have somebody say your name in that kind of sentence," Ekblad said. "… But we have plenty of faces of this franchise with all the recent signings we've made and all the guys we've locked up for long-term deals.

"There's a lot of faces and a lot of guys who are motivated. And there's a lot of commitment coming from the top. I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Ekblad's new contract, which has an average annual value of $7.5 million, begins after this season and runs through 2024-25.

"Obviously, I'm really proud to be given the opportunity to be here for the next year and eight years after that," Ekblad said. "It's pretty special that the organization has shown that kind of commitment to me."

At 20 years old, Ekblad already has become the stalwart of Florida's defense. Selected by the Panthers with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Ekblad won the Calder Trophy in 2014-15 and led Florida defensemen in scoring with 15 goals and 36 points in 78 games last season.

Ekblad has shown a level of maturity beyond his age, something general manager Tom Rowe hasn't seen in his long career.

"Honestly I haven't," Rowe said. "I've been around 40 years in this business. That maturity that he brings on the ice and off the ice is pretty impressive. He doesn't get too far ahead of himself.

"He's the one guy watching [who] you never get too stressed out about. He's always under control, he's always in the right position on the ice."

The Panthers have added defensemen Keith Yandle (trade, new contract) and Jason Demers (free agent) to replace older Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell, and acquired Mark Pysyk in a trade that sent Dmitry Kulikov to the Buffalo Sabres.

"We're trying to get quicker on the back end, get guys that can move and skate," Ekblad said. "Those kind of changes are only going to be good moving forward. In a hockey dressing room, as soon as a guy walks in, he's a part of the team and you build friendships and relationships so quickly that that chemistry comes quickly."

Florida won the Atlantic Division last season, setting a Panthers record with 103 points. It lost to the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round in six games.

Video: CAR@FLA: Ekblad nets Panthers' third goal of the 1st

The Panthers this offseason re-signed forwards Reilly Smith (five-year extension), Derek MacKenzie (two-year extension) and Vincent Trocheck (six years), and Rowe said they are negotiating an extension with forward Jonathan Huberdeau.

"You want to be with the guys that you kind of grow playing with," Ekblad said. "All these guys, we learn something from each other every single day. To be together in the long term will build a lot of chemistry. It will help us play together a lot better and hopefully it will lead to more wins."

And unlike James, who left Miami to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ekblad has no plans to depart.

"It's a true pleasure to be here in South Florida, and I don't ever want to leave," he said.

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