2014 Draft Profile: Aaron Ekblad

If there is one player in this draft that has had a lot of buzz around his name since the start of his junior career it’s Barrie Colts defenseman, Aaron Ekblad. Only the second player in OHL history to earn exceptional player status (the first being New York Islanders Captain John Tavares) and the first defenseman to earn the honors, Ekblad was able to enter the OHL as a 15-year old. Ekblad was selected first overall in the OHL draft by Barrie and went on to win the Emms Family Award as the Ontario league’s rookie of the year. Ekblad’s point production rose steadily each year and was a key component to Barrie’s playoff run in 2012-13 where he compiled 17 points (7-10-17) in 22 postseason contests, finishing with a  plus-11 rating.  2013-14 has been Ekblad’s personal best where he reached 53 points (23-30-53) in 58 games, was named captain of both the Colts and Team Canada’s U-18 team, and was one of two 2014 draft eligible players (the other being forward Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice) selected to play on the Canadian World Junior team.

As the old adage goes, “you can’t teach size” and boy does Ekblad have plenty of it, at 6’4, 215 lbs, he’s an imposing young man. When watching his game it’s hard to believe with his size and strength that he’s 18 years old, a trait that Jeff Marek alluded to when asked about Ekblad on Panther Parkway Radio:

“You look at him and he looks like he’s 25″, said Marek. “There’s still a lot of room for Ekblad to grow and that’s the scariest thing.” Ekblad’s offensive game has developed quite nicely this season as he has begun to round out his game a bit more than in the past when he played more of a stay at home game. “There’s a new skill set that’s emerging now with Aaron Ekblad, in that he’s become more of an offensive threat. He’s always had a bomb from the point on the power play, but now he’s on the rush and that’s scary.”

With the Florida Panthers owning the first overall selection in the 2014 draft  there is a lot of talk of the Panthers trading down. A lot of the reasons for teams looking to swap places with the Panthers could very well be to select Ekblad. After Ekblad there is a huge dropoff in defensemen. In an extremely offense-heavy draft, Ekblad shines brightly as the premiere blueliner and could command a nice return for the Panthers in exchange for the pick. But whether the Panthers or any other team select Ekblad first overall, prepare yourselves for the “defenseman who are chosen first overall never live up to expectations” debate.

NHL Central Scouting has listed Ekblad as the number two ranked North American skater in their final rankings, behind only forward Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs. While this may be the NHL’s scouting list, many other scouts have Ekblad as their number one and he could easily find himself selected with the first pick. When asked about what Ekblad could bring to his future team,  Ian Altenbaugh of Hockeysfuture.com had this to say about Ekblad:

” Aaron Ekblad is physically ready to play in the NHL right away. He’s 6’4, 215 pounds, and is a very smooth, strong skater. He is one of the most polished 18-year-old defensemen to come around in a long time. He has a disruptive stick, good anticipation, and a generally good hockey IQ. He is steady in the neutral zone and excellent at transitioning the puck from defense to offense. He also plays with a mean streak and has the size to back it up. He kills penalties, quarterbacks the powerplay, and is considered a great leader on and off the ice. He’s a high-achieving academic student as well.”

Ekblad may come with some hype but, not quite as much as last year’s top defensive prospect, Seth Jones. Jones was almost unanimously the number one on every scouts list. Jones was looked at as a “slam dunk” prospect (and not just because his father played in the NBA), yet Ekblad has not been met with that kind of reception, which could help or hurt his case.  While it all can be seen as speculation right now and many factors go into a player reaching full potential, Altenbaugh feels that the ceiling for Ekblad could be a “top-pairing defenseman in the mold of Victor Hedman, Alex Pietrangelo or Shea Weber.” When asked about how some scouts have seen Ekblad as a possible top-four defenseman instead of a top-two, Altenbaugh replied:

“When it comes to players who have played in juniors since they were 14-15, there tends to be a lot of tape on them. Scouts have seen him enough where his game has been thoroughly dissected, to the point where the flaws might appear more severe than they really are. Ekblad is about as complete a defenseman as an 18-year old can be.”

When it comes to the Panthers pipeline on defense, names like Alex Petrovic, Jonathan Racine, Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Josh Brown  and newly signed d-man, Mackenzie Weegar come to mind as potential members of the Florida blueline in the future. But while Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Dylan Olsen are counted on in the present, the team lacks a defenseman in the system that can do it all and excel in any situation.

“The Panthers have some talented forwards in their pool and NHL lineup, and while they have a few high quality defensive prospects on their way in Matheson and McCoshen, none are at the caliber of Ekblad.” said Altenbaugh.

In the 2014 Coaches Poll, Ekblad won the hardest shot, best shot, best offensive defenseman, best defensive defenseman and went on to win the Max Kaminksy Award as the OHL’s top defenseman.

A man’s frame, a laser from the point, the ability to move the puck and keep it out of his own end, Ekblad could be a very solid choice for Florida if they decide to draft him. Ekblad possesses many qualities that could help Florida, but then again he possesses qualities that could help any team.  The Edmonton Oilers have been in the rumor mill for a possible trade partner for Florida, as they severely lack defense and look to add a potential star blueliner like Ekblad to their team. Dale Tallon has leverage and will likely take advantage of it. If Tallon is unable to find a suitable trade partner or doesn’t get face value for the pick, Tallon has a chance to take not only the best blueliner in his class but one of the better defensive prospects in the last few years.

HEIGHT: 6’4″
WEIGHT: 215 lbs.

Regular Season Playoffs
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/- GP G A Pts PIM
2011-12 Barrie Colts OHL 63 10 19 29 34 -5 13 2 3 5 6
2012-13 Barrie Colts OHL 54 7 27 34 64 29 22 7 10 17 28
2013-14 Barrie Colts OHL 58 23 30 53 91 7 9 2 4 6 14


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