After months of speculation, the Florida Panthers took defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. The Panthers decided to keep the first overall selection after fielding trade offers from teams around the league over the past few weeks. While Panthers general manager said the team received some ‘intriguing’ offers, there was evidently nothing impressive enough to convince the team to part ways with the top pick.
Ekblad comes into the league with a sterling amateur resume and is talked about as the most NHL-ready player in the draft. The blueliner believes that he can jump into the NHL and make an impact right away.
“I am confident that I can step into the league next year,” said Ekblad. “I think that is what the Florida Panthers see in me.”
The Director of NHL’s Central Scouting, Dan Marr agrees with Ekblad’s assessment of his immediate NHL prospects.
"He is a building block for any team," Marr told USA Today. "He's smart and solid when it comes to defending, and the offensive side of his game continues to develop.”
"He is the best defenseman available and would be projected to vie for an NHL job a lot sooner than most."
Ekblad’s polish is partially a product of his joining the Ontario Hockey League a year before most of his peers. In 2011, the Windsor, ON native became the first defenseman ever to be granted ‘exceptional player’ status which allowed him join the OHL at just 15-years-old. The 6’4” blueliner enjoyed three successful seasons with the Barrie Colts, including his 2013-14 season in which he captained his team, led all OHL defensemen in goals scored with 23, and was named the OHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman.
Ekblad is also experienced at the international level as he played for Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championship and captained the Canadians to a gold medal at the 2013 U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
After taking the pick, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon admitted that some teams came close with the trade offers but ultimately there were no deals strong enough to convince the team to give up the top pick.
“There were a couple of teams, beyond ten to twenty that really came close,” said Tallon. “It was an interesting evening and morning but we felt that it wasn’t quite the deal that we needed.”
Tallon also stated that Ekblad’s character and maturity for his age were huge factors in the decision.
“I think the character is impeccable. He is so mature for his age and he fits in with what we have.”
The pick at the top of the draft was the first time that the Panthers selected with the first overall pick since they selected defenseman Ed Jovanovski first at the 1994 draft. Jovanovski, an 18-year veteran, has played 1,128 games in the pros and is in his second stint with the Panthers.
Ekblad will take the ice for the first time in a Panthers uniform at the Florida Panthers July 7-11 Development Camp. He will be joined by fellow youngsters in the Panthers system including the players the Panthers select in rounds 2-7 which will take place tomorrow starting at 10:00 a.m.