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Aaron Ekblad ‘Proud to be a Panther,’ Passes Huberdeau for Milestone



Ekblad panthers
Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad celebrates scoring a goal against the host Nashville Predators with teammates MacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau in 2021. Ekblad will pass Huberdeau for second place in franchise history today by playing in his 672nd game with Huberdeau and Weegar in town with the Calgary Flames. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Aaron Ekblad says he has “all the pride in the world’’ when he slips on his Florida Panthers jersey each night and, after this afternoon’s game, only one other player will have done so as many times as he has.

Ekblad, 28, will have played in the second-most games in Florida franchise history when the Panthers welcome the Calgary Flames to Sunrise.

He will pass Jonathan Huberdeau, who, of course, will be in the house for the milestone game.

When Huberdeau was traded from Florida to Calgary following the 2021-22 season, he was the franchise leader in games played with 671.

Sasha Barkov passed Huberdeau last season and will play in No. 723 today.

Ekblad skates in No. 672.

On Tuesday, Ekblad set another franchise mark with his 230th assist which surpassed Robert Svehla (1995-2002) for most by a defenseman with the Panthers.

“I follow in the footsteps of my captain,’’ Ekblad said, referring to Barkov. “I have been here the longest with him and that’s why I have that record.’’

Ekblad, like Huberdeau before him, downplayed some of the ‘franchise record’ talk, chalking a lot of the records up to having some longevity with a young franchise that had not been able to keep its top players around all that long in the past.

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The Florida Panthers records for goals (115), power-play goals (41), assists, points (346) and games played by a defenseman belong to Ekblad.

“There are a lot of guys who play in Boston, Toronto, or Detroit for 10 years and they don’t have these kind of records,” Ekblad said. “I am not overlooking it or looking down on it, but it’s not something where I go ‘this is crazy!’ I am young, I still have a lot to do. I am not going to rest on any laurels.’’

The Panthers franchise certainly turned a corner in the past decade as Huberdeau (2013), Barkov (2013-14) and Ekblad (2014-15) all joined the team in consecutive seasons.

The three grew up with the Panthers and, before Huberdeau was traded in that summer blockbuster with MacKenzie Weegar for Matthew Tkachuk, many thought the three would all finish out their NHL careers in South Florida.

But things change and, for Ekblad and the Panthers, many times it is for the better.

The Panthers have enjoyed three of their best seasons in history.

Florida’s 2021-22 team set all sorts of franchise records en route to a Presidents’ Trophy. Last year’s team made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and this year’s edition sits atop the NHL standings and appears to be the best team the Panthers have ever iced.

Florida panthers

Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Pirri and Sasha Barkov celebrate a goal by Barkov against the New York Islanders on Dec. 15, 2015, in Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

“To grow with the team,” Ekblad said, “and to have this team built on playoff hockey, built on winning, wanting to win on a nightly basis and not taking any games for granted is a fun thing to be a part of. I have all the pride in the world in this jersey, and I wear it with pride each and every night. I am just trying to do everything I can do to help this team.’’

Ekblad, now in his 10th NHL season after being the top pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, remains a high-end defenseman whom the Panthers count on both on and off the ice.

Before ‘The Trade,’ Ekblad and Weegar made up one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL with Ekblad well on his way to the franchise’s first Norris Trophy in 2021 before an injury ended his season.

Now, it is Ekblad and Gus Forsling who make up Florida’s top defensive unit with both leading the team in ice time.

General manager Bill Zito says Ekblad’s importance to the Panthers goes further than what he does on the ice.

“When I first came here, he was a guy who I engaged with and was impressed with just how bright he is,” Zito said. “He is a mature guy, a leader. The guys call him ‘The Renaissance Man’ because he is a boat captain and a pilot, and a top defenseman. He is a perceptive guy who understands the game, who understands his teammates.

“He is very selfless. If there is an activity, he is in the middle of it. He brings people together with his personality. At the same time, he has a lot of maturity and gives a lot of guidance and a lot of support to his teammates.

“He’s not that old, either.”



  • When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • This Season (Flames Lead 1-0) — At Calgary: Flames 3, Panthers 1 (Dec. 18). At Florida: Saturday.
  • Last Season: Calgary Won 2-0
  • All-Time Regular Season Series: Calgary leads 25-11-3, 3 ties

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