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Ekblad ready, willing to prove himself to Panthers

Wednesday, 07.9.2014 / 12:53 PM ET / News
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Ekblad ready, willing to prove himself to Panthers
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad was selected No. 1 in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers in part because he was considered the most NHL-ready player at his position.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad was selected No. 1 in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers in part because he was considered the most NHL-ready player at his position.

With the Panthers' prospect development camp opening this week in Sunrise, Fla., spectators already are wondering whether Ekblad will begin the 2014-15 season on the NHL roster.

"We'll have a good, long look at him at training camp," general manager Dale Tallon told the Miami Herald. "If he's ready, he's ready. If not, well, [Jonathan] Huberdeau went back. Guys come back better players.

"But if he's ready, we're keeping him, no doubt. We're still thinking the same thing about this being a marathon. We're getting closer with each draft."

Ekblad, 18, spent the past three seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, and Florida could return him to his junior team before the start of the season or before he plays his 10th NHL game without using the first year of his entry-level contract.

However, after 23 goals and 53 points in the OHL last season, his sights are set on improving the Panthers, who finished next-to-last in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14.

"There are a series of milestones and I have to perform and prove that I'm ready at each one of them," Ekblad said. "I'm obviously going to get the chance, but I have to prove myself. I can't rest on my laurels, rest on where I was drafted. I consider all of us as equals."

Bryan McCabe, a former Panthers defenseman who works in their player development department, said he sees in Ekblad a player whose size (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) will serve him well as he transitions to playing against bigger, stronger competition. McCabe stressed Ekblad's work ethic as a key to his future success.

"He's a kid in a man's body but is very confident and well-rounded in his game," McCabe said. "He's very grounded and humble and doesn't act like a first-overall pick. He's going through the grind with everyone else. … He has handled the pressure thus far; there's no reason to think he won't now. He is very mature for his age."

SCHEDULE

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 73 47 19 7 224 168 101
2 MTL 75 46 21 8 197 167 100
3 TBL 75 46 22 7 244 194 99
4 NYI 75 44 26 5 228 208 93
5 PIT 74 40 23 11 204 186 91
6 DET 73 39 22 12 212 201 90
7 WSH 74 40 24 10 215 182 90
8 OTT 73 37 25 11 213 195 85
9 BOS 74 36 25 13 195 193 85
10 FLA 74 34 26 14 184 202 82
11 PHI 75 30 29 16 196 216 76
12 NJD 74 31 31 12 166 189 74
13 CBJ 73 34 35 4 198 228 72
14 CAR 73 27 36 10 170 201 64
15 TOR 75 27 42 6 194 241 60
16 BUF 74 20 46 8 141 249 48

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Huberdeau 71 13 32 7 45
N. Bjugstad 72 24 19 -7 43
J. Jokinen 73 7 33 -1 40
J. Jagr 69 13 25 -4 38
B. Boyes 72 12 23 10 35
A. Ekblad 73 11 24 10 35
J. Hayes 64 18 13 -4 31
A. Barkov 63 12 17 -2 29
B. Campbell 74 3 21 1 24
B. Pirri 41 20 2 5 22
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 26 17 11 .922 2.32
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08
 
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