#5 / Defense
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 216 | Born: February 7, 1996
Birthplace: Windsor, ONT | Acquired: Drafted 1st Round, 1st overall in 2014
Assets: Owns a fantastic combination of National Hockey League size and tremendous skating ability. Also has plenty of offensive ability and hockey sense. Shoots the puck with aplomb. Can quarterback a power play.
Flaws: Needs to become a bit more physically aggressive in the National Hockey League, so as to to carve out his territory and keep opponents honest more often. Must also resist putting too much pressure on himself.
Career Potential: Elite all-around defenseman.
Why you should know who he is: Every Cup hopeful needs a stud defenseman to eat big minutes in all situations and put up points. For the Panthers, that guy is Aaron Ekblad, the former first overall pick who might well have been a Norris Trophy finalist had he not missed the last quarter of the season with a right leg injury. Now, the Panthers are hopeful that Ekblad can return some time during the first round. It’s unclear, of course, how effective he’ll be upon his return to game action for the first time since mid-March, but he’s a good enough player to be a difference maker at less than 100 percent, and slotting everyone else on that defense down a spot would be all the better for the Kitties. Ekblad is a monster on the power play, and the way the Caps have (not) killed penalties lately, that could spell real trouble.
How the Caps can stop him: The Panthers don’t need to rush Ekblad back - they’ll likely need him at his best down the road, and they haven’t missed a beat with him out - but should he return, the formula is the same as it is against most defenders: pressure and contact (especially with a guy returning from injury). The problem is, go chasing hits on the forecheck and the Panthers’ lethal rush attack will make you pay if you miss. Oh, and stay out of the box. The Caps’ best bet is that the Panthers themselves stop him... from playing.