The National Hockey League announced today that Florida Panthers D Aaron Ekblad has been named one of three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition,” along with Mark Stone and Johnny Gaudreau.
“Aaron had an exceptional year, setting single-season team records for goals, assists and points by a rookie defenseman,” said Florida Panthers Executive Vice President and General Manager Dale Tallon. “He is a highly skilled and strong-skating defenseman who was matched against the opposing team’s best players on a nightly basis. Aaron is a first-class individual on and off the ice, who is most deserving of this special recognition.”
Ekblad, 19, finished his first NHL season with 39 points (12-27—39) and a +12 rating, ranking him first on the club in goals, assists and points by a defenseman, as well as first in plus-minus. On Nov. 1, Ekblad recorded his first NHL goal, becoming the youngest defenseman in franchise history to record a goal. The 19-year old was selected to compete in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game, where he led all All-Star defenseman in scoring with four points (0-4—4). His four-point effort also tied F Pavel Bure and F Olli Jokinen for most points by a Panthers player all-time in an All-Star Game.
Ekblad’s 12 goals ranked him first among NHL rookie defensemen, while his 39 points placed him second in scoring for NHL rookie defensemen. Ekblad finished the season ranked eighth overall in NHL rookie scoring. Ekblad was the only player under the age of 20 to finish in the top ten for rookie scoring. The All-Star defenseman logged a total of 1,766:37 of ice time this season to lead all rookies in overall ice time.
This season, the Windsor, Ontario, native set single-season franchise records for rookie defensemen in goals, assists and points. Ekblad was named the NHL’s third star of the week for the week ended Dec. 7, recording six points (2-4—6) in four games, including a game-winning goal and a career-high three-point night (Dec. 6). With his three-point performance, Ekblad became just the second rookie defenseman in Panthers history to record three points in one game.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound blueliner completed the season placing third all-time in points among NHL rookie defensemen who began their careers at 18-years old, finishing two points shy of tying Bobby Orr (41 pts.) for second all-time.
Ekblad is the only finalist to make the jump directly from junior hockey last season into the NHL this year. He was the first ever defenseman to be granted exceptional player status to join the OHL as a 15-year old. When granted exceptional status, Ekblad was only the second player in the history of the Canadian Hockey League to earn the honor.
After being selected by the Barrie Colts first overall at the 2011 OHL Priority Draft, Ekblad was awarded the 2011 OHL Rookie of the Year. Ekblad played 175 games for Barrie (2011-2014), recording 116 points (40-76—116) and won the 2013 Max Kaminsky Trophy awarded to the most outstanding defenseman in the OHL.
Ekblad was drafted by Florida in the first round (first overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Ekblad joins teammate Jonathan Huberdeau as the club’s second Calder Trophy finalist in the last three seasons. Huberdeau was awarded the Calder Trophy in 2013.
From 1936-37 until his death in 1943, NHL President Frank Calder purchased a trophy each year to be given permanently to the NHL’s outstanding rookie. After Calder’s death, the League presented the Calder Trophy in his memory. Since the inception of the Calder Trophy, only ten defensemen have won the award, including Panthers Television Color Analyst Denis Potvin who won the award in 1974.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association submitted ballots for the Calder Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 24.