Panthers' Ekblad signs entry-level deal, confident he'll be in opening night lineup

Sept 3, 9:45 PM

The Florida Panthers took care of business signing 18-year-old defenseman and first overall pick Aaron Ekblad to an entry-level contract Wednesday.

Ekblad considers the signing to be another "milestone" along the road to his NHL career, which he believes will begin when the puck drops on the 2014-15 regular season.

"If you don't believe in yourself you're putting yourself behind the eight-ball," Ekblad said, via NHL.com. "I do believe in myself. I believe I can be on this team opening night. I'm very confident in that. I feel like I'm ready. I couldn't be in a better position than where I am."

While there's no doubting his talent, the Panthers may want to ensure that Ekblad, who suffered a concussion earlier this summer, responds well before setting anything in stone.

Said general manager Dale Tallon:

We're very hopeful. I think he can [make the roster]. He's big and strong enough and he's got the ability, so it's a matter of adjusting to the pace. It's a different pace. Going from juniors to the NHL is a big step, especially on the back end. We'll take our time. We'll be careful. He seems to be 100 percent. We'll see how it goes the first few days of camp. If he's ready and willing and healthy, we'll let him go. But we'll be careful.

Ekblad added he's "excited" to be part of the building process in Florida, and that the Panthers will be a "good team next year and in the upcoming years." Chances are he'll be given the opportunity to contribute sooner than later.

Sept 3, 10:37 AM

Panthers sign No. 1 overall pick Ekblad to 3-year, entry-level contract

Sept 3, 10:37 AM

The Florida Panthers have signed 18-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the top overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft this past June, to a three-year, entry-level contract, the club announced Wednesday.

"We are very pleased to have signed Aaron," said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon per a team release. "He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career. We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition."

The big defender captained the Barrie Colts this past season, scoring 23 goals - most of them on the power-play with his big shot - and notching 53 total points. He also competed for Team Canada at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Though Ekblad attended, and was injured at, Canada's U20 team's summer development camp this offseason, he likely won't be available this holiday season. It seems likely that Ekblad will be given every opportunity to make the Panthers as an 18-year-old this upcoming season.

Sept 3, 9:13 AM

Report: Panthers to announce signing of No. 1 overall pick Ekblad on Wednesday

Sept 3, 9:13 AM

The Florida Panthers are expected to announce the signing of defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the first overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, to a three-year entry-level contract, according to a report from TSN's Bob McKenzie.

Ekblad sustained a concussion this summer while competing at the Summer Development camp for Canada's U20 men's team, but recently told reporters that he has recovered from the injury and will be ready for training camp.

At the NHL Draft Combine this past June, Ekblad measured in at over 6-foot-3-inches, and weighed in at over 215 pounds. Due to his combination of size and skills, it's expected that he will push hard for a roster spot at Panthers training camp later this month. Even if Ekblad isn't ready for top-four duty as a teenager, his heavy right-handed shot could prove an asset on a Panthers power-play that struggled enormously this season.

If Ekblad makes the Panthers as an 18-year-old, at least he'll have some previous experience competing against older athletes. At 15, Ekblad was granted "exceptional status" to join the Ontario Hockey League before he was eligible. He remains the only defenseman to be granted such an exception in the league's history.

"I feel like I can step in next year and make a difference," Ekblad told reporters in his post-draft scrum.