Aaron Ekblad hasn’t just been good so far. He’s on a pace for one of the best age-18 seasons ever by an NHL defenseman.
Somewhere amidst all the well-deserved Filip Forsberg and Johnny Hockey hype, Aaron Ekblad stealthily opened the door to the Calder Trophy race and slipped inside relatively unnoticed.
No more. The No. 1 overall pick has quickly become a revelation on the Florida Panthers’ blueline. He’s playing more than 20 minutes per game. He has seven points more than the next-closest rookie defenseman. He has seven points in his last five games, and he just won the NHL’s third star of the week.
Those are some impressive feats, but they’re not staggeringly surprising. Ekblad was the 2014 draft’s top pick for a reason. He was the second player to earn exceptional status in the Ontario League after John Tavares for a reason. He was a dominant man-child with the Barrie Colts, consistently considered more NHL-ready than your average teenage defenseman.
But none of that information can properly do justice to what Ekblad’s done through his first 26 NHL games. His production isn’t just great. It’s historic so far.
Per the fascinating site quanthockey.com, here’s a look at the greatest age-18 seasons ever by NHL defensemen:
1. Phil Housley, 66 points, 1982-83
2. Bobby Orr, 41 points, 1966-67
3. Jim Benning, 31 points, 1981-82
4. Doug Bodger, 31 points, 1984-85
5. Petr Svboda, 31 points, 1984-85
6. Scott Stevens, 25 points, 1982-83
7. Rick Hampton, 25 points, 1974-75
8. Roman Hamrlik, 21 points, 1992-93
9. Al Iafrate, 21 points, 1984-85
10. Zach Bogosian, 19 points, 2008-09
11. Joe Cirella, 19 points, 1981-82
12. Aaron Ekblad, 18 points, 2014-15
The list of age-18 seasons for NHL defensemen is just 74 players long, reminding us how rare it is to break into the bigs in the first place. Ekblad is already 12th all-time. And none of the guys ahead of him played fewer than 47 games. Every one of them except Bogosian played at least 61 games. Ekblad’s 18 points put him on pace for 57 in 82 games, which would give him the second-most points all-time for a blueliner in his age-18 season.
Will Ekblad takes his lumps? Probably. We saw it with Seth Jones a year ago. But even with a regression, Ekblad will end his freshman year in extremely rare company. It’s worth noting not every player on the list above became a star. That’s a reminder that it’s early. Then again, Ekblad is on pace to blow past almost every one of them.
Congrats, Panthers fans. You have something major to cheer about, here.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin