The Florida Panthers kicked off the 2014 NHL Draft Friday night selecting the top rated defenseman available, Aaron Ekblad, with the number one overall pick.
Ekblad, 6’4”, 215 pounds, was the first defenseman to be selected with the number one pick since the St. Louis Blues picked Erik Johnson in 2006.
The Panthers had been open to trading the pick for the last few weeks. However, no deal meeting general manager Dale Tallon’s liking ever materialized. So, Florida went defense with the top pick.
"We are thrilled to have selected Aaron with the No. 1 pick," Tallon said. "He is a strong, smart and physically mature defenseman who skates well and can play at both ends of the ice. Aaron is another building block for our team and we are confident that he will fit well with our young nucleus of talented players that includes Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson. We look forward to his continued growth and contributions to our team and the South Florida community."
Ekblad was considered to be the most physically ready NHL talent in the draft. He’s expected to move into the lineup with Florida as soon as the upcoming season. Last season, he was voted the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman and finished with 23 goals and 53 points.
The Panthers have selected a defenseman with the top pick in the past when the team selected Ed Jovanovski, the team captain.
With Gudbranson and Ekblad together, Florida will have one of the youngest and biggest defenses in the league. Combined with wingers Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers are loaded with top, young talent for the next several seasons.