Welcome to "Vaulted," a new series in which we take a look back a moments that are worthy of being enshrined within the Florida Panthers Virtual Vault, which is presented by Baptist Health.
Aaron Ekblad wasn't phased by the bright lights of the NHL.
After being selected by the Florida Panthers with the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the skilled defenseman went on to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 2015. At just 19, he also became the youngest blueliner to claim the award since Hall of Famer Bobby Orr in 1967.
"Aaron had an exceptional year, setting single-season team records for goals, assists and points by a rookie defenseman," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in a release following Ekblad's nomination for the award. "He's a highly skilled, 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."
[The Vault: Ekblad Punishes the Predators During his Rookie Season]
Teaming up with veteran Brian Campbell to form Florida's top-defensive pairing, Ekblad led all rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (6), power-play points (13), shots (170) and fewest shot attempts against per 60 minutes (38.04) during his sensational 2014-15 campaign.
Etching his name into the record books, Ekblad's 39 points not only set a franchise record for a rookie rearguard, but also stood as the third-most points in NHL history by a defenseman who remained 18 years old through Feb. 1, trailing only Orr (41 points) and Phil Housley (66 points).
Edging out a pair of forwards for the Calder Trophy, Ekblad garnered 1,147 voting points, which were just enough to beat Ottawa's Mark Stone (1,078) and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau (1,026).
In winning, he joined Jonathan Huberdeau (2013) as the only two Panthers to win the award.
"There's a lot of deserving guys," Ekblad said of his challengers for the award. "I know all the guys that are up for it, and they're all great guys. I think that's what's special about the NHL, there's a lot of good guys, good people and that's important for the league going forward."
[The Vault: Ekblad Takes the Stage at 2015 NHL Awards in Las Vegas]
Recently wrapping up his sixth season in the NHL, Ekblad, now 24, continues to shine on the blue line for the Panthers. In 458 career games, the Windsor, Ontario native has posted 212 points (71 goals, 141 points) while going up against opposing team's top lines every contest.
In 2019-20, he set new career-highs in assists (36) and points (41).
"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," said Ekblad, a two-time NHL All-Star. "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."
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