Who Shines This Year: Ekblad
The title of this blog is probably a little misleading, since we don't know who will really benefit and rise above the pack with this new-attitude Panthers that's being lead by a multi-cup winning coach.
I honestly think there's going to be a significant uptick in overall team play. Of course, it would be easy to say Barky will have the strongest year, but, let's be honest, that guy can be the best regardless of the coaching and/or pieces around him - he's just that type of an unreal (and underrated) talent.
There's one guy in particular that I hope has a big year...
That guy is Aaron Ekblad.
It's amazing that he's only 23. The prime of his career is still ahead of him. His 6'4", 220 lb frame is what you like to see on the blueline. Yet, we haven't seen the type of game and consistency we want from him - at least I haven't.
Ekblad has accumulated 391 games of experience since coming into the league in the 2014-15 season. In that time, he's managed to notch 66 goals and 105 assists for a total of 171 points and is a +17 so far.
When you look at his numbers from his young career, they look pretty good - except for 2016-17, where he had a down year across the board in all categories. It happens and injury issues don't help.
Where Is This Going?
The Panthers posted a little video highlighting Ekblad's 2018-19 campaign. Check it out below:
Not too shabby. Some great goals in there.
However, did you notice anything kind of strange about it? The ENTIRE video is goals...
I get it, it's a "chicks dig the long ball" type of thing. People love seeing goals.
But...Ekblad is a defenseman...and there wasn't one defensive play in that video.
He obviously made defensive plays last season, but none were showcased in that video. Does that mean there was nothing of true significance from the defensive side of things? No big/imposing hits laid on opponents? No breaking up of plays or passes or nasty poke checks? Maybe the marketing folks just felt that two minutes of goals would get fans more pumped? A combo of everything?
Who really knows.
What we do know is that there is a serious lack of defensive-minded play on the backend for this team and if I'm the coaching staff, I'm looking at Ekblad to be the guy to step up and fill that role.
Truth be told, I think this is a make-or-break year for him. At least, I hope he's looking at it that way. His age, experience, first overall selection status and talent (both current and what needs to be unlocked) should make him "the" guy for these young, up-and-coming Cats.
There's a lot of potential with him. Heck, we've seen it in flashes. I think for him to find consistency and be the guy we think and hope he'll become, he needs to soak in everything Q and the coaching staff has to offer him.
The past two years should be in the review mirror. I truly believe success will be found in changing up his style to use his frame and think the game from a true defensman's mind and not through the eyes of the modern game's trend of offensive-minded defensemen. There's enough guys already in the defensive corp for Florida that can fill that role.
Rush the puck up and pinch in offensively when it makes sense, but work on becoming a true shutdown defender. Florida is screaming for this type of player on the blue line and it would be a great asset if he can become that guy.
Do you guys think he has the ability to do it? If not him, then who? To me, the only other guy right now is Josh Brown. A personal favorite of mine, Brown plays that simplistic, defense first game that I love. Ekblad posses certain skills and abilities that could make him highly dangerous/effective if he can learn to adopt some similar qualities of a Brown and other guys like him.
We'll see what he's looking like come camp...