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.