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With an NHL Future Ahead, Ekblad Looks Back on the Journey

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
TORONTO, ON - There is no doubting that Aaron Ekblad was a man amongst boys in the Ontario Hockey League.

The big defenceman has the physical attributes (6’ 3.5’’, over 215 pounds) that NHL teams will look for in a young blueliner who could potentially step into the league right away.

In combination with his size is his experience. Ekblad entered the OHL under exceptional status at the age of 15, becoming the youngest defenceman to ever play there. Three seasons in the OHL and over 200 games played makes the NHL Scouting Combine seem a little bit easier for the 18 year-old from Belle River, ON.

“I’ve been around the block I guess you could say,” Ekblad told Edmonton Oilers play-by-play man Jack Michaels on Friday. “I’ve played three years in the OHL, I’ve had a lot of pressure and scrutiny on myself and it makes it easier to deal with media and stuff like that and the certain things I have to do.I still think I have a lot of fun with what I do and like I said, it makes it easier and the experience is second to none. Obviously some guys might not get these kinds of experiences and of course I’ve learned how to speak well and just handle myself well.”

Having been through the last three seasons and after posting career numbers in the 2013-14 campaign (23-30-53 and 91 penalty minutes in 58 games), Ekblad wouldn’t be blamed for peeking ahead at what this upcoming season has to offer. But it is also about the journey for the consensus top-four pick.

“The destination is fun to focus on and it’s fun to fantasize about it at times but I think it’s really important that a guy like myself focuses on the journey it takes to get there… There’s a lot of people who have helped me along the way and have helped me get to this point so I have to realize who those people are, thank them and give them the gratitude they deserve and of course just have fun with the whole experience.”

But in looking ahead to next season, Ekblad will try and do what he can to step in for his new team from day one. While he was a man amongst boys at the OHL level, it will be a much different atmosphere in the show.

“In the OHL I’m somewhat a man playing with boys and now I go to the NHL and I’m a boy playing with full-strength men who are fighting for their lives,” he said. “This is their livelihood, they have families, they have a wife and kids and I think it’s really important to realize that they’re going to fight hard to protect themselves and I’m going to need to overcome that and overcome what it’s going to take to establish myself in the NHL. I think it’s just really important to realize the fight that some of those players will have.”

The Oilers currently hold the third overall selection in the draft. Whether or not Ekblad will be there is still up in the air as some scouts and media members have dubbed him a potential first overall pick. Should he be there at three, Ekblad will sure be in the conversation to come to Edmonton and help continue the rebuild.

“I know the Oilers are a bottom team right now,” Ekblad said. “They have a lot of heavy offence and they do have some great defencemen there, some great young guys who are going to do some damage in the future. Of course I would be ecstatic to be a part of that kind of organization and the amount of history that organization has. However, of course I don’t really know what’s going to happen at this point. I can’t really comment too far into it but I’d be ecstatic to play anywhere in the NHL next year, including the Oilers.”
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