Aaron Ekblad carries a heavy load for the Florida Panthers.
Leading the team in average ice time per game (22:59), the 23-year-old defenseman plays on both special teams units and also ranks second among the club's blueliners in goals (5), assists (20) and points (25) through 44 games played this season - already his sixth so far in the NHL.
In recent weeks, the former Calder Trophy winner has been enjoying playing alongside Mike Matheson on Florida's top-defensive pairing. And in Thursday's 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center, Ekblad set up Matheson for a power-play goal early in the third period.
Thanks to the duos help in that win, Florida (25-16-5) improved to 10-4-0 over its last 14 games.
Video: LAK@FLA: Matheson hammers a shot from the point
"I love playing with him," Ekblad said of Matheson. "He's really strong out there on the puck and in the corners. He's not afraid to make play or to make mistakes. That's huge. We give each other a lot of confidence. We're feeling good right now, so we're going to keep rolling with it."
But other than teaming up with Matheson on the blue line, what else does Ekblad like? Thanks to some questions from fans, we now know of at least a few more things. In the latest installment of the "Player Mailbag" series, we here at FloridaPanthers.com asked fans to submit questions for Ekblad about anything and everything.
From his performance on the ice to his life away from the rink, you can find his answers to all of your questions below!
1. How close is the team off the ice? -- @zedey73561
EKBLAD: Very close. We do a lot of different things together. It's usually things like small get-togethers at each other's houses. We like to play card games together and hang out. On the road, we just do whatever there is to do. We go bowling, go to a mall or get dinner. We like to be together as much as we can. We love it and have fun with it.
2. How much of an effect has the arrival of Joel Quenneville had on your game? -- Fred H.
EKBLAD: All of the coaches have been huge. Q [Quenneville] is obviously a big part of it, but Kitch [Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen] is the guy that is in our ear the most as a D-man. He's always got little tips and tricks on how to tie guys up and make things happen defensively and how to handle certain situations on the ice. He's always got 10 things he's giving to us on a daily basis, but ultimately he wants us to be a good, strong, reliable defense. They want us up in the rush and stuff like that, but they want us to have a smart balance between pushing the pace offensively, knowing the score of the game, and making smart plays.
3. You've been having quite a good season. What's your opinion on it thus far? -- @XxTeam48LowesXx
EKBLAD: It's been good. I'm just trying to be as reliable as I can defensively and trying to create on the offensive side of the puck as well. That's kind of always been my goal, to just kind of progress as a player on the ice and learn from some of these guys that have been around a long time and, obviously, from the coaches, too.
Video: FLA@CAR: Ekblad dekes and scores backhand goal
4. What's it like having a legend like Bobby Orr as your agent? -- Ryan T.
EKBLAD: He's great. He's always just there for me as a sounding board. He'll come down before games and say hi. It's fun to hear what he has to say. It's not always related to your game. He wants to talk to you as a person too sometimes and see how you're doing. He likes to see how you're feeling mentally and physically. It's always nice to have a guy of that caliber to talk to and learn things from.
5. What's your favorite arena to play in other than BB&T Center? -- @FlaPanthers34
EKBLAD: I like playing in Chicago. It's going to be really fun in a couple days here when we go there and play against them. It'll be Q's [Quenneville's] homecoming, so I'm sure there will be a nice video tribute for him. The fans will also be rowdy, as they always are in Chicago. That's why it's so fun to play there.
6. Who do you carpool with the most on the team? -- Rachel S.
EKBLAD: I go with Huby [Jonathan Huberdeau] and Yands [Keith Yandle] the most. I go with Huby to practice and with Yands to games. We alternate between who drives. A lot of times we just listen to music on those drives, but sometimes we also like to talk shop.
7. How many sticks and skates do you typically go through during the season? -- Kyle B.
EKBLAD: I usually go through about five to eight [pairs of] skates a season. So anywhere from a month to a month-and-half per skates. I use a brand-new stick every single game, sometimes two, depending on how they hold up throughout the day. I don't tweak with my equipment too much, but I like to add padding to make sure that I'm not getting any injuries that'll keep me out for long. I like to wear a lot of extra padding on my arms, on my hips, my quads, stuff like that.
8. What's the last good movie or TV show you watched? -- Craig L.
EKBLAD: I actually just started "The Outsider." It's a brand-new TV show based on the Stephen King book. That show already has me hooked from episode one. You can find it on HBO.
9. How did you become the guy that gets to knock the pucks onto the ice for warmups? -- @Yockrocks
EKBLAD: I used to just come out onto the ice second behind Erik Gudbranson. So, after he was gone, I just became the first one to go out. That's all it was. It's fun. I usually only take down half of them, and then the rest usually go to Mark [Pysyk], who likes to fly in right behind me.
10. Who are some of the young defensemen around the league that have caught your attention this season? -- Patrick W.
EKBLAD: Zach Werenski. I think he's got 15 goals or something like that already. That's impressive just halfway through the season. Miro Heiskanen is also a very good player. It'll be fun to see what Rasmus Sandin can do in the NHL after being called up by Toronto. He just won the best defenseman at the World Juniors, so you always have an eye on guys like that coming into the league. It's always impressive to watch players like that.
Thank you to everyone that submitted questions through e-mail, Twitter and Facebook! Stay tuned to social media for future mailbags featuring some of your favorite Panthers players.