The crop of defencemen taken in the first five picks of the draft since 2005 include Jack and Erik Johnson, Thomas Hickey, Karl Alzner, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Victor Hedman, Erik Gudbranson and Adam Larsson, and what makes Aaron Ekblad such a controversial choice to be selected high in the draft is that so few of those players have developed into top pairing defencemen, while many forwards taken over the same span are stars on their respective teams.
Ekblad is one of those players you can dream on. He skates much better than he did a couple of years ago when he first joined the OHL with his massive frame. He’s big. He hits. He possesses a cannon of a shot, terrific puck skills, and a rarity in that he was a 17-year-old defenceman to arguably be the best player on his team.
Like Jake Virtanen, if you pass on Ekblad and he becomes the player that he’s projected to be, you will regret it for the rest of your managerial career.
AARON EKBLAD – Barrie (OHL)
Weight: 216 lbs
Birthdate: February 7 1996
There’s “toolsy” and then there are players who have already converted those tools to on-ice performance. There shouldn’t be any doubt that Ekblad is a big reason why the Colts transitioned so well out of the Mark Scheifele and Mathias Niederberger era. Despite a rookie starting goaltender who was 12th in the OHL in save percentage, Barrie was 7th in the league in overall goals against, with Ekblad likely playing well over 25 minutes a night.
Last year, Corey Pronman wrestled with his prospect rankings before settling on ranking Jonathan Drouin first and Nathan MacKinnon second, writing that “to put it simply, Drouin and MacKinnon are ranked ahead of [Seth Jones] because of his position.”
It’s rare that we encounter a big, strong defender like Ekblad with the natural hockey skills he has. You add to that his high-end to elite hockey IQ in both ends of the rink, and a huge shot, and the total package looks like a player who has an NHL All-Star floor, and the ceiling of an elite NHL defenseman.
The good news is that the Canucks probably aren’t going to be in a position to take Ekblad. They also don’t have the obvious positional need at defence like Florida, Buffalo, or Edmonton do and be tempted by Ekblad. While all of his tools have allowed him to do very well at the OHL level, and his big frame and shot helped him dominate minor hockey which is why he was given exceptional player status in 2011 and drafted first overall at age 15, those skills become less and less valuable the better your competition gets.
Again, Ekblad isn’t a big empty box, meaning he’s got size and scouts like it when he hits people. Rhys wrote up a post last year noting that the junior defencemen with the most NHL success are basically the ones who score the most goals and points in their draft year. Ekblad was tops in goals (23) and sixth in points and among draft-eligibles only Anthony DeAngelo was in Ekblad’s league in points per game.
Basically, the only thing that should stop you from wanting to draft Aaron Ekblad is that you have a philosophical aversion to drafting defencemen high, and that’s completely understandable.
Rather than a compilation video, here’s highlights of Ekblad’s four-goal game against Kingston this season, just to remind you that there is a 17-year-old defenceman who was able to score four goals in an OHL game. Frank Corrado, a Canucks selection in 2011 who is an outside shot to make the NHL team just three years later, scored four goals in his entire draft year: