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Potvin impressed with Panthers rookie Ekblad

by Staff

Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin, now a color analyst for the Florida Panthers, got his first look at Aaron Ekblad on Friday and the review was positive.

Ekblad, the defenseman who was selected No. 1 by the Panthers at the 2014 NHL Draft, is expected to play in the League this season as an 18-year-old. He had 23 goals and 30 assists in 58 games for the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

"The first thing I saw was great hands," Potvin told The Sun Sentinel. "When they were battling he protected the puck well and passed the puck well, which is important. He got a puck on the boards and made a saucer pass all the way to the blue line, which is nice.

"But the most important aspect of his development is how closely he gets to his coach, who will have the ultimate decision; that's where you're going to grow.''

Ekblad will be playing for Gerard Gallant, who is entering his first season as Panthers coach. Potvin was the No. 1 pick by the New York Islanders in 1973 and went on to score 310 goals and 742 assists in 1,060 games, all with New York. He broke into the League under coach Al Arbour and the Islanders went on to win four straight Stanley Cup championships and 19 consecutive playoff series.

"Back then they didn't want defensemen to cross center ice, but he never restrained any part of my game,'' Potvin said of Arbour. "He didn't take any of my inner talent or desires I had to play the game, but instead he shaped the important parts, saying you're a defenseman first and position without the puck is key.

"He always said the better the team was the better player you'll be.''

Whether Ekblad turns out to be the type of player Potvin was remains to be seen, but he has drawn comparisons to Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks.

"All comparisons are good, especially to guys who have had storied careers,'' Ekblad said. "Those are great comparisons, but I want to create my own path in the NHL.''

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