Who says there’s no hockey now that the playoffs are done? The season starts in less than four months! Schedules are being released next week! Hockey will be back soon, and we will be prepared and to be prepared we must look to the future. Enter the the NHL entry draft, not only a time for young hockey players to make their initial foray onto the big stage, but also into fantasy owners’ hearts and minds. While most of any draft class doesn’t pan out and even fewer still become productive enough to garner fantasy attention in their first few seasons, there are a handful of prospects here you should absolutely be aware of and tracking closely. It’s not every year that a Nathan MacKinnon comes into the league, but tracking guys like MacKinnon make the difference between fantasy champ and fantasy chump. Are you a chump?! Then you’re reading the wrong blog. Or maybe the right blog given I’m trying to teach you how to be a champ! In either case, champ or chump, it’s a thin line and fantasy hockey is a fickle mistress, but we love her just the same. Personally that makes me lover her more, but I’m a glutton for punishment. Anyway, over the next few weeks I’m going to be profiling top prospects in this year’s draft and we’ll start my top prospect for this year, defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

It’s rare that an 18 year old can come on to the big stage and help his team immediately, but if there’s any player in this summer’s entry draft that can do just that it’s big, bad Aaron Ekblad out of Bell River, Ontario Canada. The 6’4”, 216lb blue line beast is an exceptional talent that mixes an impressive blend of size and strength with a degree of poise usually reserved veterans. Just the second player to ever be granted exceptional status in the OHL (John Tavares, Connor McDavid and Sean Day are the others), Ekblad is confident regardless of where he is on the ice, plays well in transition and apparently plays with a mean streak earning him the moniker “Ogre” from his teammates. It’s a term of endearment, truly. The big young defenseman hits hard, skates well and is a rock along the boards. Like all young guys you can’t expect him to be the next Shea Weber at 18, but if any guy comes to mind when watching Ekblad play, it’s definitely Weber.

Off the puck Ekblad uses his size well, plays the body and is almost never caught out of position. With the puck he is confident, maintains his poise and generally makes good decisions. One area where he can make an immediate impact is on the power play; with his heavy shot and exceptional hockey sense he makes an ideal QB on the man advantage and I can see him racking up muchos pointos there. Even better (Yes, it gets better!) if Ekblad can’t find a way to get his big shot through traffic he has no problems making crisp, hard passes tape-to-tape to help generate scoring opportunities for his teammates. His time in the OHL has been a steady rise since being granted that super-duper especial status to get drafted as a wee lad, he wasted no time making it known that his status was well deserved:

Year Goals Assists Points PIM +/- GP
2011-12 10 19 29 34 -5 63
2012-13 7 27 34 64 +29 54
2013-14 23 30 53 91 +7 58

The OHL is notorious for high scoring so you’ll have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. That being said, this is a an 18 year old defensive prospect who clearly has a solid two-way game and with his size and speed, he can make an impact right away for the hapless Panthers or Sabres, the two teams that are most likely to draft him. Unlike many of the other guys in this draft class, you will definitely see Ekblad on NHL ice in 2014-15 and unless he ends up Ekbleh and really bombs, he should see solid TOI numbers pretty quickly and have solid value as a third defenseman for fantasy owners. His upside? The sky’s the limit! Dare I say, he could be an elite defenseman in every sense of the word, fantasy or otherwise, before he’s 21.