With the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Edmonton Oilers hold a key piece to their future. They will also have a few options with that pick, depending on how the first two picks fall with Florida and Buffalo ahead of the Oilers in the line to the draft podium.
Edmontonoilers.com will be profiling some of the NHL’s top prospects leading up to the draft at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 27-28.
We’ve provided you some insight on two of the top centre prospects in Kingston’s Sam Bennett and Prince Albert’s Leon Draisaitl. Let’s switch things up now and go defence with Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts.
Aaron Ekblad is one of the draft’s most hyped players this year. The Barrie Colts defenceman was named the Ontario Hockey League defenceman of the year this season and for good reason.
Ekblad led all OHL blueliners with 23 goals and finished fifth in scoring amongst defencemen with 53 points (23-30-53) in 58 games. He represented Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. It was Eblad’s third season in the OHL, after he entered the league under exceptional status at the age of 15. He’s the youngest defenceman to ever play in the league.
Even more than his numbers, it is Ekblad’s size that sticks out as a prospect. The 18 year-old stands at 6’3.5’’ and weighs over 215 pounds. At the OHL level, Ekblad was a man amongst boys. He has the physical assets to be able to step in and play immediately at the NHL level.
The Oilers have bolstered their prospect pool with several young left-shot defencemen. Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin appear to be developing nicely with the latter two earning some valuable NHL experience last season. Down the pipe, players like Martin Gernat and David Musil developed nicely after Christmas at the American Hockey League level.
As for right-shot defencemen, the Oilers have Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry. The Oilers have done a nice job at changing an area of weakness (defensive depth) to one of strength with several young, promising and talented, albeit inexperienced, defencemen. It has also become a crowded group that could be used as future trade assets.
However, Ekblad has the chance to be a big-time right-shot defenceman at the National Hockey League level. He could be a player like Nashville’s Shea Weber, someone Ekblad himself says is on the list of players he models his game after.
“I more or less like to model my game after a group of players in the NHL, whether it’s a defenceman like Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, a lot of those guys who can provide offence as well as provide real steady defence in their own zone,” Ekblad told NHL.com.
Ekblad says he is an efficient and responsible two-way defenceman.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images
“My style is (being) a reliable defenceman in my own end as well as a guy who likes to jump up and support the rush and provide offensive abilities when the team needs it,” he said.
“You’re seeing a two-way defenceman, you’re seeing a guy who’s willing to make confident plays and great first passes out of the zone.”
Ekblad has a good chance of being off the board by the time the Oilers pick at three. TSN’s Director of Scouting spoke with Oilers Colour Analyst Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now a few weeks ago and said he sees no way that the Florida Panthers could pass on Ekblad with the first-overall pick.
“I don’t see a way,” Craig Button said. “Every organization can say they have defencemen. I even heard (Oilers Sr. Vice President of Hockey Operations) Scott Howson talk about some of the players in the Edmonton Oilers system. They don’t have an Aaron Ekblad. Don’t tell me you’ve got defencemen and you’ve got left wingers and you’ve got centres. You don’t have an Aaron Ekblad and nor do the Florida Panthers. The key thing here is you get a player that can be a pillar defenceman and to me there is no way they should even be thinking about not drafting Aaron Ekblad.”
Button went on to say he feels like Ekblad is the kind of defenceman that a team can be built around.
“I think Ekblad is a pillar defenceman. I think he’s that guy that can play in your top two, can play in your top pair and I think the top-three defencemen… When I call guys a pillar defenceman, that’s a one, two or a three. One and a two can anchor a pair and a number three can anchor a pair and that’s what Ekblad is. He’s got too much going for him, he’s smart, he’s cagey, he’s competitive and there’s not an area of the game that he doesn’t excel in.”
That’s a lot of pressure to place on a young kid. But Ekblad is used to the pressure and he uses it to motivate him to be better.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images
“The pressure is what you make of it,” Ekblad said in an interview with NHL.com. “I like to turn that pressure into the type of motivation that’s going to bring me to want to be at the rink every single day and hone in on those skills and work on all the little things it takes to be an amazing player.”
Despite what Button said about Florida and the first pick, the draft is a toss up and all it takes is for the Panthers to fall in love with one of the top centres and Buffalo to believe in their own core of young defencemen to have Ekblad fall to the Oilers at three.
Ekblad was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Friday afternoon and the draft’s top defensive prospect says he doesn’t care where he goes, he’s just hoping to play right away.
“I have no hesitations to play anywhere in the NHL,” Ekblad said. “My goal is to play next year and whatever team is going to facilitate that need and help with my development, that’s awesome to be with whatever organization that takes me. Obviously, I know it’s just my foot in the door. I am extremely committed and devoted to this summer and getting better and making sure I’m ready for a role in the NHL next year.”
Out of Button’s top-five players, TSN’s Scouting Director says Ekblad may be the most capable to achieve that goal right from the start of his professional career.
“I think the guy that’s most capable is Aaron Ekblad because of his on-ice maturity,” Button said on Oilers Now on Friday. “He’s played three years in junior, he’s very mature physically, which I think is a big part of it. He’s very mature emotionally and mentally. When you watch him play, he carries that maturity onto the ice. He came to the Barrie Colts, which were the worst team in the Ontario Hockey League, as a 15 year-old. They haven’t missed the playoffs since and he’s been a real integral part of their team and I think that Aaron, with the right support around him, no question can play in the National Hockey League next year.”
Ekblad told Stauffer that the biggest thing he will be working on this off-season is just getting physically prepared for the NHL game.
“In the OHL, it’s always playing… you’re kind of the man with boys sometimes,” he said. “When you get to the NHL, you’re playing with full-on, full-grown men who are pretty strong. I think I have to improve some of my strength in a lot of areas and skating has got to be the biggest part. I’ve got to fill out up top and just make sure that I’m ready physically to be there. The game kind of comes pretty easily if you’re playing and getting into a role on the ice. It’s all about identifying that early and making sure I’m ready physically for that.”
Ekblad certainly looks the part. If he’s available, no matter how deep or talented the Oilers feel their defensive prospect pool is, Ekblad belongs in the discussion for that pick. While going into next season with yet another young, inexperienced defenceman might be a risky move, Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish said himself that if the team has to go young, he’s confident they can do that. Marincin and Klefbom’s play towards the end of the season has opened up some options for the Oilers whether they make a move in free agency or via trade for a veteran defenceman or not. No one could argue that Ekblad wouldn’t bring something more to that group as well.
Is Ekblad the consensus number one pick to Florida? Does he slip to three and if so, is he the guy the Oilers want or need? How about addressing centre instead? What are your thoughts?
Stay tuned for more draft coverage from edmontonoilers.com.