NHL Mock Draft 2014: Florida Panthers select Aaron Ekblad with first overall pick

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

The SB Nation network of hockey blogs has come together again to deliver their take on the opening round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. With the first overall selection, the LBC brain trust has tabbed Aaron Ekblad as Florida's selection.

With the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers are proud to select, from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, Aaron Ekblad.

That could very well be what Panthers fan hear from the mouth of GM Dale Tallon (or other member of the Cats' management team) at the Wells Fargo Center come June 27th. Ekblad was the consensus pick among the LBC staff for this SBN Mock Draft exercise. Now keep in mind, our mock draft allows for no trades, something many, if not all of us, on the staff are very open to when it comes to actual reality. My rationale on taking Ekblad is this:

With no big, scoring winger worthy of the number one overall pick and the Cats absolutely loaded with center prospects, the smart move is to bypass the Sam's, Bennett and Reinhart, to add the best blueliner available, a move which will help shore up the back end for the foreseeable future. Ryan Meier summed it up even better: The Panthers have an excellent stock of defensive prospects in the pipeline and Ekblad being added sets up a stage in which he, Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Alex Petrovic and Jonathan Racine will replace the expiring contracts of Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, or other defensive players the club may choose to let go through not re-signing, or, even better, a trade to bring in some much-needed scoring. He's very polished, has all the tools to be an impact player after several years of maturation, and between himself and Gudbranson forms a very scary physical duo on the blue line for years to come. The other writers on the staff were much more direct, simply responding "Ekblad" when asked who the Panthers should select with the pick.

I know scoring is always a sore spot when it comes to the Panthers, but their play in their own end last season was just as big a problem. Ekblad should be a slam dunk top-four defenseman, and in a few years could blossom into the elite, two-way top pairing blueliner that all the teams advancing deep into the spring seem to boast. His prodigious skill set, maturity and pedigree will make him awfully tough to pass up if the Cats indeed end up making the first overall selection in Philadelphia.

LBC Scouting Report

Height - 6'4''
Weight - 217
Shoots - Right
Age - 18 (born 2/7/96)
From - Belle River, ON

Aaron Ekblad has the size, skill, and hockey I.Q. that scouts drool about. He was the first defenseman in OHL history to be granted "exceptional player" status and allowed into the league as a 15-year-old when he was taken first overall by the Barrie Colts. The young phenom collected the Emms Family Award as the Rookie-of-the-Year for his 10 goal, 19 assist 2011-12 campaign, that also saw him amass 34 PIM and finish with a -5 rating. The next season Ekblad took a larger role on the team and posted totals of 7 goals, 34 assists, 64 PIM and a robust +29 rating. He really shone in the playoffs that year, scoring 17 points in 22 games as the Colts advanced to league championship were they beaten by the London Knights. That summer he captained Team Canada to a Gold Medal win at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. This season, Ekblad was named Barrie's captain and posted career-high offensive numbers of 23 goals and 30 assists in just 58 games, and showed his physical side by racking up 91 PIM to go along with a +7 rating. He also saw duty for the first time at the World Junior Championship, donning the Maple Leaf for his country in Malmo, Sweden.

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