Ahead of the Washington Capitals matchup against the Florida Panthers tonight, Caps head coach Barry Trotz offered the highest praise imaginable to Panthers defensemen Aaron Ekblad, saying he has “Hall of Fame talent.”
Trotz told George Richards of the Miami Herald that Ekblad is going to be the face of the league one day.
“He’s going to be not only the face of the Panthers, but of the league,’’ Trotz said.
Ekblad seemed quite honored with the assessment.
Said Ekblad: “That’s very sweet of him, he’s one of the better coaches to ever coach. Those are kind words. It’s an honor.”
That’s quite a compliment from a coach who knows a thing or do about defensemen. Trotz has developed a bevy of a talented defensemen from his Nasvhille days, including Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Roman Josi.
Ekblad, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, has had an impressive start to his NHL career. In 126 games he’s scored 22 goals with 60 points, playing top-pairing minutes. He’s posted positive possession numbers as well, playing prominently with Brian Campbell, and is a big reason why the Panthers have turned things around and performed much better than prognosticators expected.
In short, Ekblad has been dynamite this season. He’s already got 10 goals, 11 assists and 21 points in 45 games. While those numbers don’t place him among the NHL’s elite point producing defensemen, for a 19-year-old who’s still learning to play at the NHL level, they’re sublime.
The comparisons are heavy, but not unfounded. MacInnis and Lidstrom were more proficient offensive players. Ekblad, who’s turning 20 this month, has averaged 0.47 points per game so far in his first two seasons. A 23-year-old Lidstrom averaged .50 points in his first two seasons while a 22-year-old MacInnis (not including his first 16 games spread over two years) averaged 0.94 points. Ekblad bested a 20-year-old Pronger’s 0.35 rate.
Pronger was more of a force of nature defensively, and Ekblad’s got plenty of work to go. But his offensive production is enough to warrant discussion as being a future Hall of Fame candidate because he’s been that good in such a short span. The 19-year-old is already a two-time All-Star, and leads his entire draft class in goals, assists and points despite being a defenseman. It’s way to early to say if he can continue producing at this rate, but if he stays healthy, he’s only going to get better.
Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant seemed all-in on Ekblad, telling NHL.com
he’s mature beyond his years.
“He’s obviously been a big kid all his life and a mature kid all his life. That’s why he was an exceptional player in the OHL and all that. Maybe he’s not 19, I don’t know. He might be 23.”
“Denis Potvin, Bobby Orr, those types of players, they just get it,” Tallon said. “That’s why he was first overall. In juniors, you could see the poise he has on the ice and the ability to play offensively and defensively.”
So Trotz statement might seem hyperbolic, but Ekblad’s got a real shot to potentially be as special as the players he listed. That’s no small feat.