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Florida Panthers ink top pick Aaron Ekblad to entry-level deal

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Defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s dream of playing in the NHL is one step closer to reality. The Florida Panthers announced Wednesday that they had signed Ekblad to a three-year entry-level contract.

“We are very pleased to have signed Aaron,” said general manager Dale Tallon. “He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career. We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition.”

The Panthers selected Ekblad with the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He spent last season as the captain of the OHL’s Barrie Colts. In 58 games with the Colts, he had 23 goals and 53 points. Ekblad sustained a concussion on Aug. 5, while attending Canada’s junior evaluation camp, but expects to be ready for the start of Panthers rookie camp next week.

"We'll take our time,"  said Tallon. "We'll be careful. He seems to be 100 percent. We'll see how it goes the first few days of camp. If he's ready and willing and healthy, we'll let him go. But we'll be careful."

At 6’4” and 216 pounds, the 18-year-old Ekblad already has NHL-ready size. He should get every opportunity to crack the Panthers’ opening night roster, something he is confident that he will be able to do.

"If you don't believe in yourself you're putting yourself behind the eight-ball,"  said Ekblad. "I do believe in myself. I believe I can be on this team opening night. I'm very confident in that. I feel like I'm ready. I couldn't be in a better position than where I am."