A native of Belle River Ontario, Ekblad played his Midget AAA hockey with the Sun County Panthers. In 62 games he recorded 14 goals and added 53 assists for 67 points. Combined with his maturity and academic achievements, Ekblad received exceptional status on March 31, 2011 and thus available for the OHL draft as a 15 year old.
At that time John Tavares was the only player to receive exceptional status and no defenseman before him had received the honor. The Barrie Colts held the number one pick and the rest – shall we say – is history.
He played his rookie season in 2011-2012 and scored 10 goals and 19 assists in 63 regular season games. He added 2 goals and 3 assists in 13 playoff games. Ekblad was named OHL Rookie of the Year and was named to the first all-rookie team. He became just the forth defenseman to ever win rookie of the year.
He was selected to play for Team Ontario at the World Hockey Challenge and finished with a goal and 2 assists in 5 games and winning a bronze medal. He was invited to the Team Canada selection camp for the Men’s National Under 18 team that was going to challenge at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August 2012 but failed to make the squad as a 16 year old.
His sophomore season saw him play in 54 games and scoring 7 goals while adding 27 assists. He had a phenomenal playoffs scoring 7 goals and adding 17 assists in 22 games. He was again selected to play for Team Ontario and was named Captain of his squad and finished a disappointing 6th. He scored twice and added 4 assists in the tournament.
The summer of 2013 saw another invitation to the Team Canada camp that was going to participate in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. Making the squad was a foregone conclusion and Ekblad was named captain. He finished first among defenders in goals (two) and points (five) and tied for fourth overall in points in 5 tournament games in leading Canada to its sixth consecutive gold medal.
Ekblad has NHL size and has had it since he was 15 years old. Finding a weakness in his game requires some magnification and even then – there isn’t anything noticeable. He’s an excellent skater with an NHL ready shot. He is very intelligent both on and off the ice – an asset that enables him to read plays at both ends of the ice. He has an excellent work ethic and understands that he can always improve and doesn’t accept the status quo. He’s an excellent powerplay quarterback who finds a way to get his shot through or move along the blue line with possession to find an open man. His defensive game has improved and will continue to improve.
Ekblad is primed for a breakout season and there is a tremendous amount of expectations from him. These eyes tell me that there is nothing to suggest he won’t handle it. Unfortunately, for two years now we’ve heard comparisons to some of the game’s greatest, including the legendary Bobby Orr, whose agency just happens to represent Ekblad. No one could have said it better than Orr himself who told The Toronto Star: “Let’s let the kid be.”
Ekblad was chosen to play for Team OHL in the Subway Super Series against Russia – the final chance for players to make their mark in an attempt to earn a spot on Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. In a press conference following the announcement of the squad, Hockey Canada chief scout Ryan Jankowski had this to say about Ekblad:
“Aaron was a very key player for us at the Under 18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament this summer. He was the captain of the team, played a large amount of minutes and was a huge part of the success that we had. Obviously with the run they had last year with the Barrie Colts last year in the playoffs he really established himself as a premier defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League and he has certainly been rewarded again with an opportunity to try his stuff with Team OHL and we’ll see how his play goes towards having an opportunity to play for Canada’s world junior team.”
Colts General Manager Jason Ford dubbed Ekblad “The best defenseman to ever play in Barrie through my time.” That’s saying a lot considering Alex Pietrangelo played for the Colts during Ford’s tenure.
Ekblad was selected in the 5th round, 171st overall in the 2013 KHL Draft.