Player #5: Aaron Ekblad, Defenseman
The Panthers’ defense may not be the best in the division, but the top pair is definitely capable of producing an all-star. As he continues to grow with experience, this is a big year for Aaron Ekblad which could turn out to be a critical stepping stone in his career.
The Canadian defenseman needed a good bounce-back from 2016-17, which he put up career lows in goals, points, and +/-, all the way down to -23.
Ekblad put up 38 points the following season (2017-18), just one shy of tying his career high of 39. His +9 rating was ranked his third best +/- out of his four seasons as a Panther. While these numbers are solid, these aren’t the kind of numbers expected from a former first overall pick, 22 or not.
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It’s not entirely Ekblad’s fault, as Yandle grew a lot in offensive influence behind Bob Boughner. The former New York Ranger outscored Ekblad’s point tally last season, and while Ekblad’s defensive responsibilities are growing, it may be best to split the two up this season.
Ekblad’s numbers in 2016 were below his numbers from this past season, however thanks to the Panthers surprising the world of hockey, Aaron was given the credit of the team’s strong defensive presence.
This isn’t taking anything away from Ekblad’s offensive ability, as being able to put up just under 40 points in three out of his for four seasons for the Panthers is still pretty good.
The question marks of a first overall pick not living up to his potential yet will cloud over his head, but if he picks up off the doubters and records career highs in points and goals, no doubt Aaron Ekblad will make the long flight to San Jose.