Panthers keep first overall pick, select d-man Ekblad

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PHILADELPHIA — The Florida Panthers are hoping they’ve found their franchise defenseman. The club used its first overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft on Aaron Ekblad, the big blueliner from the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

Ekblad, 18, becomes the first defenseman since Erik Johnson (2006) to be taken first overall. One of his new Florida teammates, Ed Jovanovski, was also taken with the first pick, in 1994. The most successful defenseman ever taken first overall was Denis Potvin (1973, Islanders).

It’s possible Ekblad slots right into the Panthers’ lineup next season. There are scouts who think he’s NHL-ready, and Florida may also lose Tom Gilbert to free agency.

Ekblad said earlier this month that he tries to model his game after Nicklas Lidstrom.

“He was a pretty special player,” said Ekblad. “Everyone says he’s a great person off the ice, too, and I think that’s pretty important.”

What does it take to be an elite number-one defenseman like Lidstrom was for the Detroit Red Wings?

“Attention to details,” said Ekblad. “Knowing when to be simple, when to jump into the rush and provide offense. Playing good defense first. Being good on the power play and penalty kill. It takes being an all-around, full-package player. A two-way defenseman.”

There was talk the Panthers could trade the first overall pick, but ultimately general manager Dale Tallon walked up to the stage at Wells Fargo Center and announced Ekblad’s name.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Aaron Ekblad