Aaron Ekblad certainly made a splash during his first year in the NHL with the Panthers, so much so that he has become a candidate for the Calder Trophy. Read on for an overview of this 19 year old defenseman.
Aaron Ekblad did not waste any time before showing the NHL the skills that he possesses. He got an assist in his first game (October 9, 2014 against the Tampa Bay Lightning) on a goal by Jonathan Huberdeau. He scored his first goal in his 9th NHL game on November 1, 2014 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a slapshot from the point that found its way behind Steve Mason. From that time, Panthers fans knew they’d being seeing a lot of that slapshot in the season to come. Ekblad went on to score 12 goals (to compliment his 27 assists) this season, which is fairly impressive for a rookie defenseman. It was enough to earn him the title of most goals on the Panthers from a rookie defenseman, an honor previously held by Ed Jovanovski. These 39 points are the third most by an 18 year old rookie defenseman (Ekblad is 19 now but the record still stands). The first two spots are occupied by Phil Housley and Bobby Orr. This total was even enough to land Ekblad the most goals, and also assists and points, of any defenseman on the Panthers this year.
Aaron Ekblad played most of the season alongside veteran defenseman Brian Campbell. That guidance undoubtedly facilitated the 19 year old’s success. Ekblad played better with Campbell, which is not a surprise seeing as many of the defenseman who have been paired with Campbell have done better with him than without him. This should not, however, distract us from Ekblad’s successes. Sure, Ekblad may not have performed quite as well without Campbell by his side. Yet, 39 points for a rookie defenseman is impressive, no matter who is helping him. Aaron Ekblad is a fast skater but also an extremely skilled skater. He skates down the ice with ease, which makes him a fun player to watch. His slap shot is also pretty decent, and it is something that Panther fans are bound to see more of in the future. Ekblad is still young and has more developing to do, but he clearly already has a head start to success.
Watch Aaron Ekblad’s goal vs. the Montreal Canadiens here.
Aaron Ekblad is 2nd in SAT (shot attempts) behind his counterpart, Brian Campbell. In almost all of the categories that Campbell is leading, Ekblad is right behind him in second place (or in third place behind Jagr). This includes SAT Close (shot attempts when the two teams are within one goal of each other), SAT Behind (shot attempts when the team is behind), USAT (unblocked shot attempts), and more. Ekblad leads the team in SAT Ahead (shot attempts when the team is ahead) with 59 shots. He also leads the team in USAT Ahead (unblocked shot attempts when the team is ahead) and USAT Behind (unblocked shot attempts when the team is behind). One of the Panthers’ most salient weaknesses is their inability to keep a lead and their evident lack of effort when the team is ahead. It is nice to know that a player like Ekblad shoots the puck, or is on the ice when one of his teammates shoots the puck, even when the Panthers are in the lead.
Watch Aaron Ekblad’s goal vs. the New York Islanders here.
On April 23, Aaron Ekblad was named one of the three finalists for the Calder trophy, a prize awarded to the rookie with the best performance in a given season. The other two finalists are LW Johnny Gaudreau (24 G 40 A) and RW Mark Stone (26 G 38 A). While Ekblad does not have nearly as many points as the two other finalists, it is important to keep in mind that he is a defenseman and defensemen generally do not end the season with as many points as forwards do. For this reason, it is more difficult to assess Aaron Ekblad than it is to assess Stone and Gaudreau. The Calder Trophy is usually awarded to a forward. In fact, since the creation of the Calder Trophy in the 1932-1933 season, only 10 of the awardees have been defenseman. The most recent was Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres in 2009-2010. Yet, Aaron Ekblad has performed with more skill and passion than the other two finalists. His enhanced stats highlight this as well. Not to mention the fact that Johnny Gaudreau is 21 and had played 1 game in the NHL prior to this season and Mark Stone is 22 and had played 23 NHL games prior to this season. Ekblad is two years younger than Gaudreau and three years younger than Stone and he had never played in an NHL game prior to this season. All in all, if the Hockey Writers’ Association is able to look past the amount of points scored, Aaron Ekblad should have a good chance of going home with the Calder Trophy on June 24.
Watch Aaron Ekblad’s goal vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets here.
Stay tuned for more player spotlights in the near future.