Panthers rookie Aaron Ekblad named finalist for Calder Memorial Trophy

SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad has been named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given annually to the league’s top rookie, the NHL announced Thursday.

"Aaron had an exceptional year, setting single-season team records for goals, assists and points by a rookie defenseman," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in a release. "He is a highly skilled and strong-skating defenseman who was matched against the opposing team’s best players on a nightly basis. Aaron is a first-class individual on and off the ice, who is most deserving of this special recognition."

Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau and Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone are also finalists for the award, which will given out June 24 during the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

"There’s a lot of deserving guys," Ekblad said of the award following Florida’s exit meetings earlier this month. "I know all the guys that are up for it, and they’re all great guys. I think that’s what’s special about the NHL, there’s a lot of good guys, good people and that’s important for the league going forward."

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ekblad is coming off one of the best rookie seasons by an 18-year-old defenseman in NHL history, beginning his career less than four months after being chosen No. 1 in the 2014 draft.

His 39 points were not only a franchise record for a rookie defenseman, but also the third-most points in NHL history by a defenseman who remained 18 years old through at least Feb. 1, finishing behind Bobby Orr (41 points) and Phil Housley (66 points).

Playing alongside veteran Brian Campbell on Florida’s top-defensive pairing, Ekblad led all rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (6), power-play points (13), shots (170) and fewest shot attempts against per 60 minutes (38.04). He also finished second in assists (27), plus/minus (plus-12), hits (109) and blocked shots (80) while averaging 21:48 of ice time per game.

International competition

"There’s no doubt I had a decent season individually," said Ekblad, who turned 19 on Feb. 7. "I think there’s a lot of deserving guys that have an opportunity to win this."

At first glance, it’s easy to see why Ekblad has such admiration for his competition.

Gaudreau, 21, ranked first among rookies in assists (40), power-play goals (8) and power-play points (21) while playing on Calgary’s top line alongside Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler. He averaged the most ice time among rookie forwards (17:43) and registered 64 points to finish tied for the rookie scoring title.

Stone, 22, scored 14 goals and 35 points in Ottawa’s final 31 regular-season games to not only help push the Senators into the playoffs, but also finish tied with Gaudreau for the rookie scoring lead. His 26 goals were second among all rookies and matched the Calder Trophy-winning season of Senators legend Daniel Alfredsson.

If Ekblad does win the award, he will join teammate Jonathan Huberdeau, who took home the Calder Trophy in 2013, as the only players in Panthers history to capture rookie of the year honors.

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