PHILADELPHIA — After several lengthy pauses, Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon announced what many had already assumed – that the team would select defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 pick.
Ekblad, 18, becomes just the second No. 1 overall selection in Panthers history; The first being defenseman Ed Jovanovski who was chosen No. 1 overall by the team in 1994. In a bit of serendipity, both Ekblad and Jovanovski are natives of Windsor, Ontario.
As for the expectations that follow No. 1 picks throughout their careers, Ekblad doesn’t plan on getting too caught up in the label that will be synonymous with his name for year’s to come.
“There’s always the burden of expectation,” Ekblad said of being the No. 1 pick. “That’s always going to be there, but it’s what you make it. That pressure and all that is just motivation for me.” He continued,“I want that burden. I want that fuel for motivation. I want to succeed under that”
Only the third player in OHL history to earn exceptional play status, Ekblad finished the 2013-14 season with 53 points (23-30-54) in 58 games and was named the top-ranked North American defenseman in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings.
Standing 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Ekblad certainly has size worthy of a spot on an NHL roster, however, at just 18-years old, it is still unclear if the team will send Ekblad back to Barrie for another season with the Colts.
“I am,” Ekblad said with no reservations when asked if he was ready for the NHL.“I’ve said that from the very beginning that I believe in myself and I’m confident. I think if you don’t believe in yourself and you’re not confident you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball. Right off the bat“
“I believe that if I work hard this summer I can really step into the NHL next year. Obviously I may need a lot of help and it’s going to be a learning curve but, again, I’m confident in myself.”
If Ekblad does make the jump to the NHL next season, he will join a defensive unit that is loaded with talented, albeit inexperienced skaters such as Dmitry Kulikov, Dylan Olsen and Erik Gudbranson.
“They have a young core and they want a Stanley Cup. This d-core, in a couple years, is going to be pretty good,” Ekblad said of the Cats’ budding blue line.
“I want to jump into a young core where I can help. Be a leader within those guys and let them lead me and support me – I think it’s a two-way street that way. I think that’ll help me out a lot next year.”
Ekblad’s first taste of Panthers hockey will come at the team’s annual development camp that begins on July 7. Expected to be in attendance, Ekblad doesn’t plan on spending too much time at the beach or enjoying the South Florida sun.
“There’s a lot of things you can get distracted from down there other than hockey,” Ekblad said. “I want to focus on hockey, that’s why I’m here.”
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