When the Florida Panthers drafted Aaron Ekblad first overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, they knew they were getting a franchise player; however, no one expected him to accomplish what he did at just 18 years of age. Ekblad was not only the best defenseman on his team, but one of the best in the whole NHL. After a stellar rookie campaign, he as awarded with the Rookie of the Year award, as the leagues top rookie, and will look to build on this during the coming season.
Although the Panthers just fell short of making the playoffs, Ekblad was a huge reason as to why they were still in the race till the end. In 81 games, he recorded 12 goals and 27 assists, which was good for 39 points. Perhaps the most impressive stat with Ekblad was his plus minus as he tallied a plus 12 rating, showing how strong his game was in his own end.
At 6-feet, four-inches and 216 pounds, Ekblad possesses ideal size for a top pairing defenseman, and will continue to gain strength over the next couple of seasons. In the offensive zone, Ekblad has great vision, which is why he had much success in his rookie season. He not only has a cannon from the point, but also has the ability to get his shot through traffic and on target. Ekblad did an exceptional job at setting up plays with the man advantage and did a very nice job with the breakout passes. The Panthers had the leagues 24th ranked power play this past season, so Ekblad will play a key part in revamping it this upcoming season.
Where Ekblad excels most is in his own end. He uses his size to his advantage, as he can clear traffic in front of the net, making it easier for goalie Roberto Luongo to see shots. His positioning is a key part of his game as he is always in the right place at the right time. When Ekblad has the puck he doesn’t panic and avoids turning it over. Another key aspect of Ekblad’s play is his shot blocking ability, as he isn’t afraid to get down and block shots. He has very long reach and does a solid job at disrupting opposing passing lanes.
Heading into the 2015-2016 season, if there is one thing that Ekblad needs to improve on, is his skating. Although he has solid speed, his strides can be rough at times, and tends to struggle with his balance. If he can touch up his skating this offseason, there is no reason why Ekblad won’t be in contention for the Norris trophy as the leagues top defenseman.
The Florida Panthers are loaded with young talent, and look to take the next step this coming season. If the team can stay healthy there is no reason as to why they cannot make the playoffs. Reigning rookie of the year Aaron Ekblad will have an increased role this season, and will be looked upon as a leader at just 19 years of age. There is reason to be excited about the Panthers as they will be one of the more exciting teams to watch. Led by Ekblad on the backend, the Panthers will have one of the leagues best defensive groups in the NHL for years to come.