Highly touted prospects Ekblad, Barkov highlight Panthers development camp
JUL 07, 2014 6:09p ET
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Over the next week, the future stars of the Florida Panthers will gather for the team's annual development camp in Coral Springs.
Former first-round picks Aaron Ekblad (No. 1 overall, 2014) and Aleksander Barkov (No. 2 overall, 2013) highlight a camp roster filled with both future stars and hopeful tryouts.
For Ekblad, a defenseman, Monday's opening day of camp marked his first on-ice activity as a member of the Panthers.
"It's a milestone," Ekblad, 18, said of his first NHL development camp. "If you reach each milestone and finally play in the NHL then you can kind of feel like you made it. Until then, I know I have a lot to work on."
Only one of three players in the history of the Ontario Hockey League to earn exceptional player status, Ekblad finished the 2013-14 season with 53 points (23-30-54) in 58 games with the Barrie Colts. Labeled as the most NHL-ready prospect in the 2014 draft, the Panthers hope that he will be able to contribute quickly to the team's already budding blueline. Ekblad, however, knows that being the No. 1 overall pick doesn't guarantee NHL success.
"I can't rest on my laurels," Ekblad said. "You can't rest on where you were in the draft. As draft picks, I consider all of us equal players ... all of us have the same opportunity to make this team. It's what you do with it. I need to prove it."
Guiding Ekblad on his journey to the NHL will be the Panthers manager of player development and former NHL defenseman, Bryan McCabe. McCabe, a 15-year NHL veteran, will play a crucial role in getting the Panthers newest star ready for the limelight.
"He listens, he takes direction well, he asks questions," McCabe said of Ekblad. "He's very mature beyond his years and it's going to be very fun working (with him)."
While Ekblad still has work to do before he can call himself an NHL-er, the same cannot be said of Barkov. Limited by knee injuries to just 54 games during his rookie season, Barkov, 18, notched eight goals and 16 assists while serving as the team's top-line center.
"I feel good," said Barkov, who has been spending the majority of his summer in his native Finland. "I still have two months of recovery and (time) to do some stuff on my upper body and lower body."
Unable to participate in last year's development camp while recovering from shoulder surgery, Barkov pointed out that the team's week-long camp is hardly a vacation.
"It's a lot harder than last year for all of us," Barkov said. "More practices and some kind of physical tests like that."
OTHERS TO WATCH
F Rocco Grimaldi: A second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2011 draft, the 5-foot-6 Grimaldi is the Panthers' smallest, but possibly most skilled, offensive player at development camp. Last season, Grimaldi, 21, led all University of North Dakota players with 17 goals and 39 points in 42 games as a sophomore. In the opening round of the Division I tournament, he scored a hat trick against top-seeded Wisconsin to help UND cruise to a 5-2 victory. Entering his first professional season, Grimaldi will hope to land a spot with the Panthers' American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
D Mike Matheson: A first-round pick (23rd overall) in the 2012 draft, Matheson surprised many when he opted to return to Boston College next season rather than signing an entry-level contract with the Panthers. Last season, Matheson, 20, led all BC defensemen with 21 points in 38 games as a sophomore. Entering his junior year at BC, he will serve as team captain for the upcoming season.
C Vincent Trocheck: A third-round pick (64th overall) in the 2011 draft, Trocheck has a chance to crack the Panthers' opening-night roster after an impressive finish to his first professional season. After spending the majority of last season in the AHL, Trocheck, 20, joined the Panthers for the final 20 games of the 2013-14 season. While with Florida, he scored five goals and three assists and led all Panther forwards with 18:53 of ice time per game. Prior to his call up, he led San Antonio in scoring with 16 goals and 42 points in 55 games.
D MacKenzie Weegar: A seventh-round pick (206th overall) in the 2013 draft, former Halifax Mooseheads defenseman Weegar continues to play beyond his status as a late-round pick. In his final season with Halifax, Weegar was the team's top-scoring defensemen, earning 12 goals and 59 points in 61 games. And although his team failed to capture a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title, Weegar finished 11th among all skaters in playoff scoring with 22 points in just 16 games. Often lauded by Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, Weegar will look to earn a spot on San Antonio's highly contested blueline this offseason.
D-CAMP BY THE NUMBERS
2: Florida natives hoping to make the roster
3: Former first-round picks
6: Skaters 5-foot-8 or shorter
14: Skaters 6-foot-3 or taller
15: Skaters who played NCAA hockey last season
34: Skaters invited to camp
75: Combined NHL games played for prospects in attendance