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Ekblad learns lessons from Panthers prospect camp

Monday, 07.21.2014 / 1:17 PM ET / News
By Alain Poupart  - NHL.com Correspondent
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Ekblad learns lessons from Panthers prospect camp

After Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad wrapped up his first professional development camp, the first pick in the 2014 NHL Draft wasn't quite sure what was next on his agenda.

Perhaps he would attend a camp in Cape Cod conducted by Panthers skating and skills coach Paul Vincent. Or maybe he would stay in Ontario and focus on off-ice training.

Either way, Ekblad is going to be working. The development camp provided him with an idea of what it would take to earn a spot on Florida's roster in training camp and he'll spend the rest of the summer with that thought in mind.

"I loved it," Ekblad said after development camp ended. "I had a lot of fun from the very beginning, learning quite a few pretty important lessons I can take into the rest of the summer. Obviously I still have a lot of hard work to go through to make this team in September."

The most important lesson might have come from longtime NHL defenseman and Panthers manager of player development Bryan McCabe.

"Just how much it takes," Ekblad said. "We had a good talk with Mr. McCabe. It's just amazing how much mental toughness and how physically and mentally prepared you have to be to make it to the next level. It's a big jump and I'm really excited and aware of what I have to do."

Ekblad, 18, showed off his offensive skills during a scrimmage on the last day of camp, blasting a slap shot past goalie prospect Evan Cowley.

Afterward, Ekblad said he was less than happy with his scrimmage performance from a defensive aspect. That's one area of focus for him over the next several weeks, along with skating and getting stronger.

"I need to work on everything," he said. "Skating is one of the things I focus on the most considering it's a fast-paced game in the NHL and that's what I need to work on the most. ... Any time you can get a little bit stronger, it's really important. I want to get a little bit stronger, upper and lower body. The full realm of my game needs to get better before I can play in the NHL."

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon repeatedly has said Ekblad will be given every opportunity to earn a roster spot in training camp, and McCabe echoed those sentiments.

Ekblad, who will participate in Canada World Juniors training camp in August, isn't taking anything for granted.

"Obviously I don't expect a spot on this team. I have to earn it," he said of the Panthers. "And this is just the first stepping stone to that goal. I don't think until my first game I'll feel that I'm finally here."

At the very least, Ekblad made a very good first impression on his new employers.

"What we expected is what we got," Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland said. "Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

"[Now it's just] making sure that he's not going to be surprised by anything when he shows up here in September. He's heading home. He's got a great program for the summer. What we saw right now and him just finishing up a month ago, we feel pretty good about it."

Tallon's message to Ekblad for the next few weeks was simple.

"Just keep getting better," Tallon said. "This is an indoctrination camp. He's probably learned a lot about fitness and nutrition and the pace of play and how to get better. This kid is totally committed. He'll go back and do whatever it takes to come back here and earn a spot on our team."

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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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