While the likes of Jay Bouwmeester and Robert Svehla are heralded as the greatest Florida Panthers defensemen of all time, the actual greatest Panther blueliner of all time is on the roster right now: Aaron Ekblad.
In just under 500 games played, Ekblad ranks second all-time in points (234) and first all-time in goals (82) out of all defensemen in club history. He has a chance at catching Svehla’s franchise-leading total of 335 points before eclipsing his games played mark, as he has played 80 fewer games (of course, it’s not entirely possible, considering he’d need to score 101 points in 80 games to do so).
Since being drafted by the Florida Panthers first overall in 2014, Ekblad has lapped the competition in multiple areas, leading the team to one of their most successful periods in franchise history and appearing in more All-Star Games in his young career than the competition.
Ekblad has flown under the radar over the course of his career, winning the Calder Trophy in 2014-15 and making two All-Star games in each of his first two seasons, the most impressive of which being how composed he was during his rookie season, making an instant impact on the Panthers.
In 81 games, Ekblad scored 12 goals and 39 points, playing composed enough defensively to receive votes for the Norris Trophy, finishing 22nd. He didn’t take his foot off of the gas in his second season, scoring 15 goals and 36 points in 78 games, making yet another All-Star game in 2015-16. He also led the Panthers to their first Stanley Cup playoff berth since 2012, where the Cats ultimately lost to the Islanders in six games.
At 19 years old, Ekblad was already one of the most accomplished Panthers defensemen of all time. To compare him to his peers, Bouwmeester made two All-Star games as a Panther while Svehla only made one ASG in his time in Florida. Ekblad already lapped the competition before being able to drink a beer to celebrate his accomplishments.
On top of that, Ekblad’s Calder Trophy makes him the only defenseman in Panthers’ history to win one of the NHL’s main performance-based awards. The only other Florida players to win an award are Jonathan Huberdeau (Calder) and Pavel Bure (Maurice “Rocket” Richard).
Ekblad’s Legacy And Future
Ekblad is a part of one of the most successful Panthers eras of all time, making two playoff appearances in his time in the organization. If the Cats are able to lock up a playoff spot this season, he would make his third playoff appearance if he returns from the 12-week leg injury he suffered in March.
In his first seven seasons in Florida, Ekblad is already the most accomplished player in team history, and he can skill accomplish much more. He still has four more seasons on his contract before he becomes a UFA, so at the very least, he could become the highest-scoring defenseman in Panthers history by a long shot before walking in free agency.
Being number one in points isn’t the biggest thing he can accomplish, however. With the Panthers being guided by Bill Zito and Joel Quenneville, they’re primed to be Stanley Cup contenders for years to come, including this year.
If Ekblad returns from his injury and guides the Panthers to a Stanley Cup victory, he could very well solidify himself as the greatest defenseman in team history, although the numbers say he already is.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a junior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a social media manager and photographer for FAU Owls Nest. He also works as a freelance writer for debt.com. Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press.
Colby grew up an Islanders fan and had season tickets before moving to Florida.