Expect Ekblad to shatter Florida’s rookie D records


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.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

Sens’ Ryan not ruling out Tuesday’s game vs. Islanders

Senators forward Bobby Ryan wouldn’t rule himself out for Tuesday night when Ottawa visits the New York Islanders.

Ryan missed Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning due to a broken finger.

The 27-year-old said he suffered the injury during his first shift of the second period in Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Ryan took slashes from both Brian Campbell and Tomas Fleischmann towards the end of his shift.

“It hurt. It’s a broken finger right? We knew it was going to hurt,” said Ryan following Monday’s practice. “It was a matter of trying to see how comfortable we could get (the finger) so I could do more than just stick handle and float shots in there.

“There’s some optimistic signs if we can continue to get progress on it maybe we can get there, but the end game is to play as quick as possible, if it’s tomorrow, who knows?”

Ryan, who is in his second season with the Senators, has five goals and 13 points in his first 21 games this season.

Given the fact that he wasn’t interested in getting involved physically during Monday’s practice, it’s hard to see Ryan suiting up Tuesday.

“I tried to stay away from some conflict out there in the corners and stuff cause I didn’t even want to lift a stick,” he said. “That’s one of the things, if you’re going to put guys in a position where they’re going to have to cover for you all night, you don’t want to do that.

“You’d rather miss a couple games, get back to where you’re comfortable going into those situations.”

Along with the Senators training staff, Ryan has re-worked a glove to give him added protection.

“You can’t break it any worse, that was what was said to me,” he said. “This issue is just how comfortable I can get to where I can play through the pain.”

The Senators conclude their home-and-home with the Islanders in Ottawa on Thursday night.

Welcome to the trade rumor mill, Florida Panthers veterans


From the Sun-Sentinel:

No surprise that Florida wants to start going with the kids. New head coach Gerard Gallant is regarded for his work with young players, most recently with Quebec junior league outfit Saint John.

Florida, who’s been bad in recent years and subsequently drafted high, has stockpiled a ton of young talent, with the likes of Grimaldi (33rd overall, ’11), Quinton Howden (25th overall, ’10), Alex Petrovic (36th overall, ’10), Drew Shore (44th overall, ’09) and Connor Brickley (50th overall, ’10) all stuck in AHL San Antonio.

Meanwhile, at the NHL level, the club has a handful of underachieving forwards:

— Tomas Kopecky, 32, has openly admitted concern about his roster spot and is in the last of a four-year, $12 million deal with a $3M cap hit.

— Tomas Fleischmann, 30, has been a healthy scratch already this season and is in the last of a four-year, $18 million deal with a $4.5M cap hit.

— Sean Bergenheim, 30, can’t stay healthy (as mentioned in the above tweet) and — surprise! — is in the last of a four-year, $11 million deal with a $2.75M cap hit.

In light of the Sun-Sentinel’s report, one would think 35-year-old Brian Campbell could also be up for grabs. An excellent puck-mover that reportedly asked for a trade this summer, Campbell would be a great addition for a number of teams but could be tough to move; he has two years left on his eight-year $57 million deal that carries a $7.14M cap hit.

Panthers rally late, but Isles win fifth straight in SO

The Florida Panthers overcame a 3-1 deficit in the third period to secure a point, but the New York Islanders ultimately earned a 4-3 shootout victory to extend their winning streak to five games.

Florida selected Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and so far he’s been great for an 18-year-old defenseman. He’s eating big minutes and has started to contribute offensively. His second goal of the season sent this contest to overtime:

Ekblad has an impressive seven points in six contests since the start of November and he’s on a three-game point streak. Jimmy Hayes and Brian Campbell contributed the Panthers’ other two markers.

Roberto Luongo turned aside 31 of 34 shots in regulation time to climb to fifth place in the all-time saves list. Ed Belfour is next on the list with 22,434 to Luongo’s 22,183.

The Panthers netminder couldn’t provide his team with the extra point in the shootout though as Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen each beat him in the skills competition.

Kulikov to undergo second MRI, will miss Florida’s next two games

The Panthers will be without one of their minutes leaders this week for a pair of home dates against the Sharks and Isles.

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, third on the team at 22:26 TOI per game, won’t play in tomorrow’s tilt against San Jose or Friday’s against New York because of a knee injury suffered over the weekend, per head coach Gerard Gallant.

More, from the Miami Herald:

Gallant said Kulikov is scheduled for a second MRI, but the team doesn’t think the injury is serious.

Kulikov watched Monday’s practice without crutches, but Gallant said he wouldn’t play the next two games at minimum.

“He won’t play the next two games and hopefully we know more by the West Coast road trip,” Gallant said. “We should know more later in the week.”

With Kulikov out, Colby Robak — who’s been playing as a forward — will be paired with Brian Campbell on defense, leaving rookie Aaron Ekblad to skate with captain Willie Mitchell. Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen make up the other unit.

It’ll be interesting to see how Florida fares without Kulikov in the lineup. The club is playing .500 hockey — 4-4-4 through 12 games — but has a really tough stretch coming up after the Islanders game, with four consecutive road dates in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Nashville.