Aaron Ekblad: The Real Deal?

TSR Features | 8 Oct 2011

The Colts invested a large chunk of their future into Ekblad after taking him 1st Overall.

There are lofty expectations on the shoulders of Aaron Ekblad this season. The 15-year-old defenseman became only the second player in OHL history to be allowed to enter the OHL Priority Selection as a true 15-year-old, and went on to be selected by the Barrie Colts with the 1st Overall Pick. Who was the other player to get exceptional status? Some guy named John Tavares, who was the 1st Overall Pick by the Oshawa Generals back in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection. 

We all know how the Tavares story turned out. After scoring an astounding 45 goals and 77 points as a double underager, Tavares went on to become one of the most prolific scorers in OHL history. Cue the expectations for Ekblad as he looks to follow down the same path Tavares forged over 5 years ago.

With Ekblad, however, we’re going to have to temper our expectations a bit. Is he good enough to play in the OHL right now? Definitely. Can he take a regular shift in the league right now? After seeing him a couple of times this year in addition to my viewings last season, I would have to say absolutely. Now with that being said, Ekblad’s performance this year isn’t going to be accurately based on our traditional quantitative methods.

I didn’t have high statistical expectations for him to begin with, and if the first handful of games are any indication (6gp 0p -1), he’s probably not going to blow anyone away with his offensive production. I’m not going to make excuses for him, but it’s very clear that Ekblad belongs in the league right now. He’s already one of Barrie’s top defenseman and is logging a ton of minutes in all situations without looking out of place.

Ekblad has the physical size to play in the league and can assert himself on the ice with his ability to deliver a check and stand his ground. His defensive game is very polished for a 15-year-old and he certainly does a good job of understanding the team’s defensive coverage scheme and doing the little things such as having an active stick and taking away passing lanes. Those are the things that we want to see out of his game now; the ability to play against quality OHL players and be an asset to the team, rather than a liability.

Offensively, I’ve never looked at Ekblad as a pure offensive defenseman, but a guy who has the framework of skills to be a capable offensive contributor. I think you could maybe compare him a little to someone like Alex Pietrangelo in that regard, as a guy who will probably put up points but isn’t viewed as a pure offensive player. He’s been getting some powerplay time thus far but it’s pretty clear he’s still trying to find his comfort zone out there. The points are going to come eventually, but I wouldn’t expect anything too substantial this year.

One of the areas I really want to see Ekblad improve at his is skating and lateral movement. He’s not a bad skater by any stretch, but I think there’s some improvement that can be made his lateral agility and transitioning. When he’s moving, he’s got a powerful stride and can easily play the game at the OHL speed, but his lateral movement needs to improve so he’s able to handle the transitional game better and maintain strong gap control. Again, for a 15-year-old those things will come. John Tavares has developed into at least an average skater at the NHL level, and Ekblad is certainly ahead of where he was at Age 15.

I think that one of the best ways to describe Ekblad is that if you get out and catch a Barrie Colts game without any knowledge of the players, you’d have no chance of being able to pick him out as the only 1996 YOB on the ice. He’s already got intimidating size and he’s got the grit and chippiness to his game that is going to make him a very tough player to play against. His offensive game is still very raw, and I think as we continue to see him find his comfort level in the game, his offensive game will be something that develops moving forward.

Aaron Ekblad will not be the best rookie in the OHL season; that’s a statement I can say that with a pretty convincing degree of certainty. Aaron Ekblad is, however, a very polished 15-year-old defenseman who has all the potential to develop into a dominant OHL defenseman, and a player with tremendous NHL upside. And let’s not forget, he isn’t even NHL Draft Eligible until 2014.

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