By Mike Harrington
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Aaron Ekblad tried to keep things simple when talking to reporters Saturday at the NHL Scouting Combine. The Barrie Colts defenseman is the top-rated blueliner in the draft and considered a building block on the back end. He says he's 100 percent ready to play in the NHL but just focused on trying to make a team.
"I watched some NHL games this year and realized this is a hard league to get into," Ekblad said. "The NHL Draft is just a foot in the door. It means nothing until you prove you're ready to do it."
Forget that. Ekblad is going to be a 20-minute a game defenseman next year and there's a good chance he'll be the first defenseman taken No. 1 overall since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006
Ekblad is a physical specimen, listed at 6-3 1/2 and 216 pounds. He pushed his heart rate over 200 during the VO2 max test in the International Centre as scores of scouts and media watched from a few feet away. That was impressive. So is the 18-year-old's demeanor. It's like talking to a 32-year-old who has played 12 years in the NHL. Eklbad interviewed with 16 teams here this week and the Sabres, of course, were one of them.
Ekblad said he hasn't closely studied rosters of the top teams in the draft. I asked if it would be better for him to come to a team like Buffalo that already has a cachet of young defensemen rather than a club like Edmonton or Florida that has huge holes on its blueline and would rely on him to be its top young prospect. Here's his answer:
"I look at it as I want to make a team. It doesn't matter who's there. It's going to be tough to beat out a guy that's fighting for their lives. This guy could have kids and a wife. That's how you have to look at it. These guys are going to fight for their careers and their well-being. Everyone has been doing this their whole life, not just myself.
"Expectations are other people's thoughts, not mine. I simply hold high standards for myself, high goals. If I reach those goals, I'm still not happy or satisfied with what I do."
Ekblad earned Exceptional Status into the OHL as a 15-year-old and posted career bests this season in goals (23), assists (30), points (53) and penalty minutes (91). But with the Sabres so desperate for offense, what do they do if Ekblad is available? Remember, GM Tim Murray told me point-blank during the season's wrapup news conference the team will take the best player available regardless of position and said by name he was referring to Ekblad if the label applies. Hmmm.
Be sure to check out my thoughts on the Sabres' Ekblad Dilemma in Sunday's editions of The News.
taggedNHL Entry Draft | Sabres