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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."

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Huberdeau 79 15 39 10 54
J. Jokinen 81 8 36 -2 44
N. Bjugstad 72 24 19 -7 43
A. Ekblad 81 12 27 12 39
B. Boyes 78 14 24 11 38
A. Barkov 71 16 20 -4 36
J. Hayes 72 19 16 -4 35
B. Campbell 82 3 24 4 27
B. Pirri 49 22 2 6 24
D. Bolland 53 6 17 4 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 28 19 12 .921 2.35
A. Montoya 6 7 2 .892 3.01
 
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