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Ekblad ready, willing to prove himself to Panthers

Wednesday, 07.09.2014 / 12:53 PM / 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 MTL 64 41 18 5 172 142 87
2 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
3 NYI 65 41 21 3 207 182 85
4 TBL 65 39 20 6 213 171 84
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 65 35 20 10 193 162 80
8 BOS 62 31 22 9 165 161 71
9 FLA 64 28 23 13 156 181 69
10 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
11 PHI 64 27 25 12 170 186 66
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 64 26 33 5 173 195 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 64 22 16 -9 38
J. Huberdeau 61 9 28 3 37
A. Ekblad 64 11 23 7 34
J. Jokinen 63 6 28 -1 34
B. Boyes 62 11 21 8 32
J. Jagr 60 12 19 -10 31
J. Hayes 55 17 12 -4 29
B. Campbell 64 3 20 2 23
A. Barkov 53 10 12 -5 22
V. Trocheck 34 5 11 8 16
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 23 16 11 .921 2.37
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08
 
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