Funny how Aaron Ekblad looks neither particularly dangerous nor lonely the afternoon before the 2014 draft. He’s sitting in his designated spot at the National Constitution Center, wearing an NHL-issued golf shirt, khakis and casual footwear (no socks), swatting aside questions with the same ease he does 16-year-old lightweights in the Ontario League. His hair has a blond streak and he’s well tanned, the result of having a little downtime after the season to spend on his family’s new Sea-Doo 21-foot Challenger boat on Lake St. Clair near Windsor. There’s a certain irony that Ekblad, the day before he’ll be consigned to an NHL team over which he has absolutely no choice, is doing this in the same city where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.
Ekblad’s emancipation from junior hockey, though, is almost complete. He’ll soon be a part of the Barrie Colts alumni. At 6-foot-4 with a cannon from the blueline, NHL hockey sense and the makeup to log big-time minutes, he’ll be playing in the best league in the world this coming season. On this afternoon, the only question is where. The Florida Panthers are dangling the first-overall pick and they’re getting some action, particularly from the Flyers, who want to make a splash in front of their fans. They also want the player who’s the most NHL-ready among all the prospects. “He’s a man,” says Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who stays up all night stewing over trade offers before deciding to take Ekblad. “He’s 18 going on 30.”