Birthdate: February 7, 1996
2013-14 Team: Barrie Colts (OHL)
From: Belle River, Ontario
Corey Pronman (ESPN): 1
Craig Button (TSN): 2
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 1
Stats (from the OHL’s website):
Ekblad is a good not great skater and a good not great puck handler. I sense the excitement already! He projects to be an above-average offensive player. He could be a defenseman who plays on a team’s top power-play unit, specifically if that team doesn’t use four forwards, but he won’t be a top-10 scoring defenseman in the NHL.
The areas where he separates from the pack are his physical game and defensive value, with both being elite. It’s rare that a big, strong defender like Ekblad possesses such natural hockey skills. In addition, he has high-end to elite hockey IQ on both ends and a huge shot. That total package looks like a player who has an NHL All-Star floor and the ceiling of being one of the NHL’s elite blueliners.
The Florida Panthers hold the number-one pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. In the last five years, the Panthers have selected Dmitry Kulikov (14th overall in ’09), Erik Gudbranson (third in ’10), Nick Bjugstad (19th in ’10), Jonathan Huberdeau (third in ’11), Michael Matheson (23rd in ’12) and Aleksander Barkov (second in ’13). Out of those six players, Kulikov, Gudbranson and Matheson are defensemen, but none have established themselves as bona fide first-pairing guys.
Shane O’Donnell of Litter Box Cats outlined the Panthers’ draft needs pretty extensively in this post:
The Panthers, at this year’s draft, DO NOT… I repeat, DO NOT… Need to draft a center. The Panthers have an abundance of prospects at the center position that haven’t fully developed (Trochek, Barkov, Bjugstad, Grimaldi, Shore) and have the top 2 center slots fulfilled in their lineup with Barkov and Bjugstad. Drafting a high caliber center simply adds to the backlog in the prospect wheel at that position, something that isn’t desirable at it slows down the development of prospects who don’t get the playing time they need at the level that they need it.
Brian Campbell, as good as he has been for the Panther’s, is not as elite as a defenseman as the Panthers could have, and when he leaves the team, it is possible that there will be a gaping hole in the defense that needs to be filled. The role that is needed here, then, is a defining number 1 defenseman. A Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter, Erik Karlsson type of defenseman who can play significant minutes and contribute on the scoresheet consistently. This then, is the next hole that the Panthers may look to fill in the upcoming draft.
Ekblad may not have the offensive chops of Doughty or Karlsson, but I believe he can be similar to Suter as a minute-munching, elite defensive player who takes care of business in his own end while still supplying good enough offensive skills to man the top power-play unit. For this reason, I would be very surprised if the Panthers pass on Ekblad to take one of the two Sams (Bennett and Reinhart) as they are both centres.