Aaron Ekblad 2014 First Rounders: Will They Make It?


*Runs over to check calendar. Is it… no it can’t be… September 1st?!* That’s right hockey fans the great game is almost ready to make its return to the ice and once again there will be no lockout to delay it. Oh happy day! Since the training camps are just weeks away and rookies are getting geared up to make a run, we’re going to take a look at all 30 of the first round draftees from 2014 to see if they will crack their teams roster this season. Our first stop is non other than Aaron Ekblad.

Being the first overall pick comes with a lot of pressure to crack the NHL full-time in your first season. In fact the last first round pick to not immediately jump into the NHL was Erik Johnson in 2006. Oddly enough, Johnson was the last defenceman to be taken first overall. Will defenceman Aaron Ekblad be able to break the trend and immediately crack the Florida Panthers roster?

Prior to Draft

Ahead of the draft Ekblad had his best season on the Barrie Colts blue line, recording 53 points in 58 games. During the 2014 OHL coaches poll he was voted best shot, hardest shot, best offensive defenseman, and best defensive defenseman. For his efforts with the Colts he won the Max Kaminsky trophy for the league’s best defenceman. 

Ekblad suited up for Canada at the World Juniors where he recorded 2 points in 7 games and he also suited for the red and white at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament where he won gold.

“I knew he was a well-rounded player, but I’m really happy with his skills, how he handles the biscuit, how he moves it and how he shoots it.” Panthers GM Dale Tallon

Following a solid pre-draft season, the Florida Panthers used their first overall pick in 2014 to bring home defenceman Aaron Ekblad. There was no true number-one front runner ahead of the draft, but Ekblad had been in contention all season long.

This summer

It’s been a rough summer for Ekblad who was skating with Canada preparing for the next World Junior tournament when he suffered a concussion. The question many raised was why he was skating with Canada at this point? The chance of him competing with Canada at the World Juniors is pretty slim.

Thankfully Ekblad appears to have recovered quickly and was back on the ice for the NHLPA’s rookie showcase where he addressed his concussion.

"“The concussion is perfectly, completely gone. I feel great,” said Ekblad. “I’ve been skating all this week, working out all this week. It’s gone. I feel great”"

Losing any time off training this offseason wasn’t ideal for Ekblad who is looking to hook on with the Panthers in his first attempt. Will the concussion cost him at all this year?

Florida Panthers

Remarkable, the first overall pick remains unsigned by the Panthers at this point in time. Training camps open in a couple of weeks and many of his fellow draftees’ have already received their entry-level deals. One would imagine that Ekblad will be signed to his deal relatively soon, but it’s still somewhat interesting that he has not yet been signed.

At six-foot-three and 216 pounds all signs point to Ekblad cracking the Panthers roster right off the bat. They are in need of a top-notch young defencemen to help the future. Brian Campbell would be a good mentor for the youngster and he should find an immediate home.

However, the challenge with defencemen is the fact it takes them much longer to adapt to NHL play than forwards. For most forwards the move from junior to NHL is pretty easy or at least hidden. They’re surrounded by other forwards and can easily be lost in the 2nd or 3rd line.

For defence men, everything is different. If you get burned bad, it’s your name in the newspaper and you’re the one getting blamed. There really isn’t a place to hide or a hole deep enough to dig. The spotlight falls on you and when you’re the first overall pick with big expectations, the spotlight just gets brighter.

The Panthers blue line already boasts the likes of Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson and veterans Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell.

Aaron Ekblad is expected to become the face of their franchise and guy they can build around. He plays a solid two-way game and has a cannon of a shot. He’ll have to work hard to prove he’s ready and recovered from his concussion, but Ekblad should certainly find his way into the opening night roster for a full season with the Panthers.

Will he play his rookie season in 2014-2015

Yes, to quote Brian McCabe; “if he comes into camp and proves he can play we’re certainly not going to send him back.” He’s got NHL ready size and skill. He may have a rough time at the start of the year, but he’ll turn out just fine for the Panthers.