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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.

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."

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 52 39 9 4 171 117 82
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 53 30 18 5 150 135 65
4 NYI 52 28 18 6 145 129 62
5 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
6 DET 53 27 18 8 133 131 62
7 BOS 53 28 19 6 153 146 62
8 PIT 52 27 18 7 138 132 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
12 OTT 54 25 23 6 153 166 56
13 PHI 52 23 20 9 122 137 55
14 BUF 54 21 27 6 124 146 48
15 CBJ 55 21 28 6 137 170 48
16 TOR 52 19 24 9 120 144 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 51 17 21 14 38
J. Jokinen 54 11 27 12 38
J. Huberdeau 54 10 28 12 38
V. Trocheck 54 17 18 3 35
A. Barkov 43 16 19 13 35
R. Smith 54 18 16 12 34
B. Pirri 50 11 13 -4 24
A. Ekblad 50 10 13 20 23
B. Campbell 54 5 17 20 22
N. Bjugstad 39 9 10 -1 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 24 13 5 .928 2.17
A. Montoya 8 3 1 .929 2.01

 
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