Bobby Orr is the greatest hockey player of all time, while Phil Housley not being in the Hall of Fame will baffle me for the rest of my life. To be mentioned in the same sentence as those two greats is rarified air and should not be taken lightly. Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers has earned that right by posting the third best season offensively for an 18-year old defenseman in NHL history behind only Orr and Housley.
While the former Barrie Colt has a ways to go to come anywhere close those two greats the early returns on Ekblad’s player are unworldly. I was there when Ekblad was taken with the first overall pick in last year’s draft in Philadelphia. I was impressed with his physical stature and knew he’d be a special player, but I’m dumbfounded he’s been this good this soon. Defense in the NHL is one of the hardest positions to master and youngsters need to be eased in on a learning curve, as shutting down the best players in the world and contributing offensively takes some time to master.
It’s not just the stats that jump out about Ekblad, it’s the maturity he plays with every night that has to be seen to be believed. As the point man on Florida’s power play, Ekblad has a repertoire of moves to create chances that would make a long-tenure veteran jealous. I love the way he’s able to freeze defenders with a pump-fake that opens things up for his teammates around the. The type of physical talent coupled with off the charts hockey IQ is truly a rarity.
Maybe it’s that he plays in Florida, who is surprisingly hanging tough in the playoff race in no small part because of Ekblad’s contributions. Or maybe it’s because he’s not a flashy player. Whatever it is, it’s a travesty that Ekblad isn’t getting anywhere near the credit he deserves, because he’s something special. Look for the 2015 Calder Trophy to be the beginning of big things for Ekblad as he will help elevate the long moribund franchise to new heights. Not bad for a kid who is still two years away from his 21st birthday.