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free agency

Aaron Ekblad 'excited' about extension with Panthers

Florida cornerstone defenseman signs through 2024-25 season

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers added some depth on the first day of free agency but their biggest move was signing defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a long-term contract extension.

The deal, worth $60 million according to ESPN, means the 20-year-old is under contract through the 2024-25 season at an average annual value of $7.5 million.

"I'm really enjoying my summer, and for this kind of thing to happen, it's really exciting for me," Ekblad said. "It's really great for the Florida Panthers and the ownership to have shown that kind of commitment toward what I want to do and how I want to be a part of this team. I've always expressed my interest to be here for a very long time, and I'm very excited to be here and have this extension."

Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, last season led Panthers defensemen with 36 points and an NHL career-high 15 goals in 78 games. He scored his eighth career game-winning goal April 9 against the Carolina Hurricanes to set a Panthers record for a defenseman, passing Ed Jovanovski's seven.

"We are very excited to sign Aaron to a multiyear contract," Panthers general manager Tom Rowe said. "He is an exceptionally skilled, intelligent and mature young player that is a difference-maker for our team both on and off the ice. Aaron is an integral part of the foundation of our future, and a cornerstone player who is continuing to develop into a true leader and one of the league's elite defensemen."

Video: Analyzing Ekblad's eight-year extension with Panthers

In 2014-15, the 6-foot-4, 216-pound native of Windsor, Ontario, became the second Panthers player to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year. Ekblad set Panthers records for most goals (12), assists (27) and points (39) by a first-year defenseman.

Ekblad became the youngest defenseman to win the Calder Trophy since Bobby Orr, who happens to be his agent, and was two points shy of tying Orr's NHL record for most points by a rookie defenseman who began his career as an 18-year-old.

"I don't ever want to leave South Florida. It's a great place to live down in Fort Lauderdale," Ekblad said. "It's a great place to play in Sunrise. I love the organization. I love the owners. I appreciate the fans. I don't want to leave. I hope that feeling stays mutual both ways for eight years and much longer."

Earlier Friday, the Panthers signed goalie James Reimer, and forwards Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault. Reimer, who signed eight days after the Panthers acquired goaltender Reto Berra from the Colorado Avalanche, was surprised.

"Yeah, I wasn't quite sure," Reimer said. "I saw that they had traded for Reto, so I wasn't quite sure where their interest would lie. As conversations started to get going, it seemed like it could be a possible landing spot."

Rowe explained reasons for signing Reimer to a five-year contract reportedly worth $17 million, and they had to do with starter Roberto Luongo's short-term and long-term outlook. Rowe confirmed Luongo had hip surgery after the Panthers were eliminated by the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round and said he anticipated Florida would begin the 2016-17 regular season with Reimer and Berra as its goalies.

Video: Chatting with newest Florida Panther, James Reimer

"Everything is going to be determined on how [Roberto] gets through the whole offseason with his rehab," Rowe said. "Right now, it's going really well. We're going to take it one day at a time. We don't want to rush him back. We want him to come back on his schedule and just make sure we're doing everything the right way."

Reimer said, "I don't think I can say enough for [Luongo]. He's a heck of a goalie. He's an elite goalie and I think his personality is known across the League. He's a great guy. For me, I'm excited. I can learn a ton from him and see how he plays the game and how he handles certain situations. For me, I'm a guy that always likes to learn and keep growing. Having the opportunity to play with him, it's a great opportunity."

Reimer, 28, had ups and downs in six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs but played a valuable role as a backup for the San Jose Sharks after he was acquired in a trade on Feb. 27. He enabled coach Peter DeBoer to give starter Martin Jones some valuable rest by going 6-2-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in eight starts. Three of his wins were shutouts.

The Panthers added forward depth with the signings of Sceviour and Marchessault. Sceviour had 11 goals and 23 points in 71 games for the Dallas Stars last season; Marchessault had seven goals and 18 points in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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