In anticipation of the Sharks’ 2014 NHL Draft selection, we will be highlighting the top 30 prospects over the next few weeks.
Name: Aaron Ekblad
Current Team: Barrie Colts (OHL)
Jersey Number: 5
Weight: 217 lbs.
Hometown: Belle River, Ontario, Canada
Perhaps the most heralded player in the upcoming draft is Aaron Ekblad. The hulking defenseman was just the second player ever to be granted exceptional status to enter the OHL as a 15-year-old.
Serving this season as captain of the Barrie Colts, Ekblad has amassed 23 points (9G, 14A) in 26 GP so far this season – a strong start despite his minus-4 rating. Colts GM Jason Ford (who – keep in mind – oversaw the Colts during Alex Pietrangelo’s time with the team) had extremely high praise for the defender:
(He is) the best defenseman to ever play in Barrie through my time.
Internationally, Ekblad captained Team Canada in the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament to a gold medal victory, scoring 4 points (2G, 2A) in 5 GP. NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards said of Ekblad:
He has a hard, accurate shot and shows a lot of poise and confidence. He is physically strong and uses his size and strength very well. He will not back down when challenged and moves the puck well with hard accurate passes.
Best described as a two-way defender, Ekblad possesses more defensive prowess than he does offensive, which is inspiring considering he compiled 34 points in 54 games last season. Often considered as the No. 1 defender at even strength, on the power play, and on the penalty kill, many have compared him to some of the league’s all-time greats; these include Bobby Orr, who had his own input on the lofty comparisons:
Let’s let the kid be.
Like most experienced NHL players, Orr knows how such high expectations and comparisons can have negative affects on young hockey stars. Angelo Esposito, for example, drew comparisons to Wayne Gretzky in the years leading up to his draft year (2007); now he plays in Italy, having failed to meet the expectations the Pittsburgh Penguins had for him. However, Ekblad seems destined for much more success than Esposito had ever dreamed of achieving. It will be interesting to see if NHL teams holding the first overall pick in the upcoming draft will go for the promising blueline cornerstone over the heavily-favored center Sam Reinhart.