Tempted by Flyers, Panthers decide future is with Aaron Ekblad

Aaron Ekblad pulls on a Florida Panthers sweater after being chosen first overall in the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

PHILADELPHIA – Dale Tallon stood at the podium, delaying the inevitable. Five seconds passed between his announcing the hockey league the first pick in the NHL Draft originated from (the OHL) and actually calling defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s name. 

“I thought we were in show business?” asked Tallon. “I made Ekblad sweat a little.”

He was sweating already. Ekblad, the Barrie Colts defenseman that was the consensus No. 1 pick, didn’t know the Florida Panthers were selecting him. In fact, he felt there was a good chance they’d trade the pick based on all the scuttlebutt before the Draft.

“Oh, my phone was blowing up all night. I couldn’t tell you any specific trades because there were so many of them. I just scrolled through the tweets, just to see how many there were,” said Ekblad.

“I was sitting there scared and excited at the same time."

That fear was elevated by the rather enthusiastic Philadelphia crowd, which booed everything from Gary Bettman to all the teams not named the Flyers during the draft. “For a second there, my dad was like, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s not you.’ But that’s the way it is. That’s hockey,” said Ekblad.

But the Panthers announced his name, and he became the first defenseman taken No. 1 overall since Erik Johnson in 2006.

“They were joking around with me a second ago and said they knew from the very beginning,” said Ekblad.

That’s not entirely true. Tallon admitted that the pick was in play until about noon on Friday, when the Panthers decided the best thing for their franchise was adding the big blue-chip defenseman to a group with its share of good young talent.

“We laid out all the cards on the table. All the pros and cons. What was best for the franchise, long-term,” said Tallon.

The Vancouver Canucks pitched him a month ago, using former Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison in a package before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday. Tallon said two teams were in the mix for Ekblad as late as Thursday night, with the Draft host Philadelphia Flyers the most aggressive. They pitched Tallon on the eve of the draft and then again right as the event started.

The Sun Sentinel reported that the Flyers offered either Brayden or Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier, but the Panthers were asking for forward Wayne Simmonds.

Tallon said the offers were “enticing.”

But in the end, Ekblad was Florida’s guy.

“I like the warm weather. There’s a lot of things that can distract you down there, but I’ll focus on hockey,” he said. 

“I’m not much of a golfer at all. That’s a plus for them.”