After some teasing that they might move the pick, the Florida Panthers selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad No. 1 overall in June’s NHL Draft. On Wednesday, they paid him accordingly.
Ekblad and the Panthers agreed on a 3-year, entry-level contract that’ll get the top pick in camp and on the ice for them this season. From Florida GM Dale Tallon:
“We are very pleased to have signed Aaron,” said Tallon. “He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career. We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition.”
Ekblad, 18, was selected by Florida with the first overall choice in the 2014 NHL Draft. He was named the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) most outstanding defenseman during the 2013-2014 season, ranking first among the league’s blueliners with 23 goals and tied for fifth with 53 points (23-20-53). The 6-foot-3, 213-pound defenseman became just the third player in his 18-year-old birth year to earn the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman honor in the past 20 years, following Ryan Ellis (selected 11th overall by Nashville in 2009) and Bryan Berard (selected 1st overall by Ottawa in 1995). He also served as Barrie’s team captain.
There are restrictions on what Ekblad can make per the CBA. Nathan MacKinnon, the top pick in 2013, had a $925,000 cap hit but his base salary was $3.775 million annually thanks to performance and signing bonuses.
With Ekblad in the fold, the Panthers actually have themselves a nice little group of defensemen back there in front of Roberto Luongo. One could see him paired with Willie Mitchell on a second unit behind Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov. There hasn't been a Calder winner from the blue line since Tyler Myers in 2010; giving Ekblad a solid defensive defenseman to play with would be a start down that path.
Come to think of it, they’re not abjectly terrible up front either. Could the Florida Panthers actually be contenders in the Atlantic?