The Florida Panthers received a gift when they selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Ekblad had an outstanding rookie year, recording 39 points in 81 games with the Florida Panthers. Normally it takes defenseman a lot longer to develop in the NHL, but Aaron Ekblad looks well on his way to becoming a franchise cornerstone for the Florida Panthers organization.
The 19 year old blue liner had the honour of being named as one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, along with forwards, Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Stone. He deserves to be a nominee and some would argue that he should be the winner of the trophy which celebrates the rookie of the year.
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Ekblad had a historic season for a defenseman who played most of the season at just 18 years of age. The stats show that Ekblad is drawing comparisons to the great, Bobby Orr.
He had the third highest scoring season for an 18 year old NHL defenseman, behind only Orr, who had 41 points at that age, and Phil Housley, who had 66 points in the early 1980's juiced puck era. Here is the full list.
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Ekblad has always wanted to be just like his boyhood hero and NHL legend, Niklas Lidstrom. When asked about becoming the best just like Lidstrom, Orr and others here is what he had to say,
“I’m a little bit stubborn, to the point where I’m persistent enough where I want to be the best in everything, I’m not going to say I’ve always been the best, but I’ve always worked the hardest to be given the opportunities to be the best. That’s what I want. I just want to push myself to be better and better.”
Sounding like a future great already at just 19 years of age.
Florida Panthers captain Willie Mitchell had a solid season for the team but he made it clear that Ekblad was responsible for keeping the team in the hunt for the playoffs all season, he spoke of the rookie's level of play just a few days before Ekblad's 19th birthday.
“People don’t understand how hard [it] is, eighteen to play in the NHL is one thing. To succeed at a high level is another. To be one of the best players on your team is another. And to do it at a position which is the hardest position to break into in the NHL, is special.”
The praise for Aaron Ekblad is endless, but in order for him to forge his path of greatness he will have to improve next season and prove to everyone that he wasn't just a one season wonder and that he can be the next Lidstrom or Bobby Orr.