With the 2014 NHL Draft less than 24 hours away, teams are beginning to decide whether a trade should be made using their pick or if keeping it’s the best option. If they choose not to deal it away, the question becomes which prospect is the best fit for their system.
The organization this applies to most is the Florida Panthers, a team that finished 29th in the league last season but won the NHL Draft Lottery, giving them the first overall pick.
Many have speculated that the Panthers might trade away this high draft choice in exchange for a player that can help them win now, but earlier reports indicate general manager Dale Tallon‘s leaning towards using his team’s top pick. If that report holds true, the player likely chosen would be Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Would he be the right fit though?
Upon first glance I’d have to say yes. At 6′ 3″, Ekblad reminds me a little of Victor Hedman, selected 2nd overall back in 2009. His 23 goals last season led all OHL blueliners, while the 58 points he tallied placed fifth. That led to him being named the Ontario Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Defenseman.
Even more impressive, however, would be the fact Hockey Canada granted Ekblad exceptional player status, making him eligible for the OHL Priority Selection as a 15 year old. This is important to know, as New York Islanders first overall pick in 2009, John Tavares, was the only other player regarded highly enough to be given this honor. With everyone expecting greatness, Ekblad didn’t disappoint by winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2011-12′ season.
The Panthers, meanwhile, could use a puck moving defenseman. Dylan Olsen and Alex Petrovic have bright futures ahead, but that’s where it stops. Brian Campbell‘s getting up there in age, which probably means a decline in his play should be expected at some point, Ed Jovanovski‘s injuries are a real concern moving forward and Dmitry Kulikov‘s play (19 points, team-worst minus-26 rating in 2013-14′) isn’t nearly worth the money he’s making.
Adding Ekblad provides the Panthers with options. They can try to ship Kulikov away in some sort of package deal that lands them a decent netminder to play behind Roberto Luongo, or even a veteran defenseman like Brooks Orpik who can help mentor the younger blueliners.
I realize Tallon isn’t known for taking the best player available, evidenced by last year’s selection of fourth rated prospect Aleksander Barkov when elite defenseman Seth Jones was still in the mix, and while Barkov exceeded all expectations before going down injured during the Olympics the defense was so suspect it cost the Panthers some wins. If they’re serious about making a playoff return sometime soon, Ekblad’s the guy to help get them there.