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2014 First overall draft pick, Ekblad excited for preseason debut

by Mike Lewis / Florida Panthers

There are high expectations that come with being a first overall pick. But, high expectations are nothing new to D Aaron Ekblad. After all, they’ve been attached to him for most of his playing career. Granted exceptional player status as a 15-year old to enter the OHL, Ekblad was drafted first overall in the 2011 OHL Draft by the Barrie Colts and the sky’s been the limit since then.

Being the first defenseman to earn exceptional player status in the OHL, Ekblad quickly became one of the top players in the league. Spending three seasons with Barrie, Ekblad wowed scouts with a mental and physical maturity far beyond his years. Standing at 6’4”, 216 lbs and only 18-years old, Ekblad stood out from the rest and was armed with an NHL-caliber shot and a strong hockey IQ.

Posting 116 points (40-76-116) in 178 games with the Colts, Ekblad earned numerous accolades over his junior career, but becoming the first overall draft pick by Florida last June at the NHL Draft became an unforgettable moment for the young blueliner.

Now 24 hours away from his first NHL preseason game, Ekblad looks to make a strong impression so that he can earn a full-time roster spot by the time opening night rolls around.

“I’m pretty excited. Anxious for sure, it’s been a long time coming, waiting for this moment “, said Ekblad with a smile.

“I’m ready to play hockey against men here in the NHL, it’s pretty exciting and obviously the anxiety is building up.”

Paired up in training camp with savvy veteran D Willie Mitchell, Ekblad has taken quite well to his partner, praising the two-time Stanley Cup winner’s mentorship.

“There are little tips and stuff on the ice that [Mitchell] gives me when we’re out there and doing things,” said Ekblad.

“It’s helped me a lot, just learning from him. In the amount of years that he’s played, he’s picked up so many things and he’s done so much. He’s so reliable and that’s the [type of] player I want to be.”

The 37-year old Mitchell has been brought in to be a leader in the Panthers locker room and help guide the youngsters on the roster. Ekblad hopes to be paired with Mitchell in the game against the Nashville Predators tomorrow and continue to develop their chemistry together.

“Hopefully I’m playing with Willie [Mitchell] tomorrow. Just to have that opportunity to learn from him in a real game situation would be awesome”.

Head Coach Gerard Gallant has stressed that hard work through competition will be the way to earn a roster spot. After this weekend’s doubleheader against Nashville, the team has three games remaining in the preseason and is getting closer to making cuts to the roster. Coach Gallant has stated that the 49-man roster could slim down to a number closer to 30.

Ekblad has discussed reaching milestones since coming to Florida. He sees every step he takes closer to the NHL as a milestone, with skating on the 2014-15 roster this season as the top goal. Being part of the impending roster trim is not in his plans. The preseason could be his last hill to climb before reaching that goal.

Expectations are high for young Ekblad, but if his track record is any indication of his path, failure to live up to those expectations just hasn’t been his style.

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