For a first overall pick, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s rookie season has been quite under-the-radar, especially considering how well it’s gone.
As the Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov points out, Ekblad tops all rookie defensemen in 2014-15 with five goals, 14 assists and 19 points (while his 22:05 time on ice average comes in second), but it’s not just that. He already owns the Panthers’ franchise record for rookie defensemen with those 14 assists and should shatter Ed Jovanovski’s rookie blueliner points mark pretty soon (Jovocop collected 21 in 1995-96).
By just about any metric, the 18-year-old seems like he’s beyond his years. Only Brian Campbell boasts better possession stats among Florida defensemen, and “Soupy” actually gets slightly cushier zone starts. If you want to talk about blueliners who defy conventional wisdom that it takes years to develop defensemen at the NHL level, you could do worse than to point to Ekblad’s remarkably quick growth.
Roberto Luongo raved about Ekblad’s quick learning to Yahoo earlier this month.
“He doesn’t play like an 18-year-old,” Luongo said. “He plays like he’s been in the league 18 years.”
Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant simply said “we trusted him from Day 1.”
The 2015 Calder Trophy race looks like a pretty crowded field so far, especially if Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg can even approach his current pace over an 82-game season. If nothing else, Ekblad’s made the Panthers look very smart – and maybe a little lucky – in grabbing him with the top pick.
Just imagine if this is merely the tip of the iceberg, too.