NHL draft prospect Ekblad ahead of his time

Posted: June 26, 2014

THIS WEEKEND, young men from around the world will gather in Philadelphia to embark on their professional hockey careers. Starting Friday, they will hear their names called by the teams with which they will showcase their talents the next few years.

One prospect, who will be taken with one of the first few picks Friday evening at the Wells Fargo Center, already has shown what he can do at the pro level.

Aaron Ekblad has been playing hockey as a professional since he was given exceptional player status by Hockey Canada, and drafted with the first pick in the 2011 Ontario Hockey League when he was 15 years old. This is the first year he is eligible for the NHL draft, and he is taking the opportunity afforded to him.

Now just 18, he is a consensus top-five pick, and has drawn comparisons to great defensemen such as Chris Pronger and Shea Weber.

But Ekblad, who played three seasons with the Barrie Colts, knows that he is not going to come right into the league and be an All-Star.

"You've gotta be patient," Ekblad said. "I don't expect to come in next year and be Drew Doughty in the NHL. I expect to come in and play a solid defensive role. If the coach has confidence in me and says I have the green light to go do some more, I would definitely try to do that.

"The NHL is a tough league. The NHL draft is a foot in the door, and I have to pay attention to detail and be a two-way defenseman to really make an impact."

At 6-4, 217 pounds, Ekblad has the physical tools to make an impact quickly. He is still young, though, and has been working hard to perfect the weaknesses even he sees in his game. A defenseman must be able to adjust within a game, and sometimes play multiple roles within his position.

"Attention to details, knowing when to be simple, knowing when to jump in the rush and provide good offense, playing good defense first, being good on the power play and penalty kill," Ekblad said. "It takes being an all-around, full-package player, a two-way defenseman."

Growing up in Ontario, Ekblad looked up to and patterned himself after a fellow defenseman, Detroit great Nicklas Lidstrom. The Red Wings captain played 20 years in the NHL, won four Stanley Cups, and earned the nickname Mr. Perfect.

"I'm persistent and determined to be a good hockey player," Ekblad said. "Aspiring to [be like] someone like that is important, but ultimately it is my parents who raised me to be like this and told me to really be passionate about something, and I am. I love the game of hockey."

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