It does not seem like that long ago that Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon strode to the podium in Philadelphia at the 2014 NHL Draft and, before announcing his team’s selection with the top pick, paused for comedic effect. Everyone knew Florida was taking Aaron Ekblad No. 1, but he wanted to give the kid from Windsor one final suspenseful moment.
Yet here we are seven years later and Ekblad is not only considered one of the top players on the Panthers, but one of the top defensemen in the entire NHL.
On Wednesday night, Ekblad will play in his 500th game.
”Obvously I would have liked to get No. 500 last year,” Ekblad said Wednesday morning. “That injury set me back a bit. But I’m excited to get it this year, it’s a cool, fun milestone. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. We’re here to win hockey games.”
After being seriously hurt last March in Dallas — Ekblad needed surgery on his left ankle — he has started this his eighth NHL season by picking up right where he left off.
Ekblad, who turns 26 in February, looks as good as he did last season before the injury and is a big reason the Panthers go into tonight’s game against the visiting Boston Bruins atop the NHL standings with the best start in franchise history at 6-0.
”The task at hand is, I think, the attitude for all of us,” Ekblad said. “We’re focused on the details every day; the power play, the PK, seeing where we are weak in any parts of our game and just cleaning that up. Obviously the results are going to follow.”
MILESTONE FOR TEDDY
The Panthers will honor equipment manager Teddy Richards on Wednesday in a pregame ceremony for working 1,500 professional games.
Richards became the youngest equipment manager in the NHL when the Panthers hired him in 2016 at the age of 33.
When he joined the Panthers, it was his first hockey job away from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization where his father drove the team bus for AHL Wilkes-Barre.
According to a feature story on Richards in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he started out parking cars for the Baby Penguins before becoming an assistant equipment manager for team in 2002.
He was promoted to head AHL equipment manager four years later and later moved to Pittsburgh in 2013 before being hired by the Panthers.
“I really enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh,” Richards said during a Panthers practice last week. “It wasn’t the easiest decision to leave. For me being an assistant, you always want to pursue being a head guy. That’s the ultimate goal, just like any assistant coach or minor league hockey player. They want to make it to the next level. This is my next progression.”
Special thanks to Teddy for allowing me to follow he and his staff around in 2018 as they prepared to pack the Panthers up after a game in Newark before flying to Finland for the Helsinki series against the Winnipeg Jets.
— The Panthers will host a Haunted House on the arena’s Suite Level tonight from 6-10 p.m.
For a $5 donation to the Florida Panthers Foundation, fans can get scared and maybe grab some candy in the Chairman’s Club.
— The team is also holding a food drive which starts tonight. Fans are asked to bring non-perishable food items to the JetBlue Tarmac starting at 5. The team is also having a drive-through food drop off at the arena on Halloween.
The food drive will benefit Harvest Drive to collect items for families in need.
For more information, visit FloridaPanthers.com/Drives.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
BOSTON BRUINS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- WHERE: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TICKETS: CLICK HERE
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560-AM
- 2021 regular season series: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Boston leads 56-35-6, 6 ties
- Odds via Bovada.lv: Florida (PL -1.5 +180) — (ML -135) — U/O 5.5
- Up next: Florida at Detroit, Friday, 7; Boston at Tampa Bay, Thursday, 7