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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 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
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