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Florida makes Aaron Ekblad top pick in NHL Draft

Top overall pick Aaron Ekblad (center) is flanked by No. 2 pick Sam Reinhart (right) and No. 3 pick Leon Draisaitl. Bill Streicher/USA Today.

BILL STREICHER/USA TODAY

Top overall pick Aaron Ekblad (center) is flanked by No. 2 pick Sam Reinhart (right) and No. 3 pick Leon Draisaitl.

PHILADELPHIA — The Florida Panthers selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first pick in the NHL Draft Friday night.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 214-pound Ekblad played for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League. He is the first defenseman to go No. 1 since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006.

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Without a clear cut No. 1, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was open to trading the pick. In the end, he decided to take the 18-year-old defenseman from Belle River, Ontario, with the first selection at the Wells Fargo Center.

‘‘That is the burden of expectation. I chase it,’’ Ekblad said. ‘‘I want that burden of expectation. I want that feel for motivation and I want to succeed under that.’’

The Panthers had a top-three pick in the NHL Draft for the fourth time in the past five years. The first three — defenseman Erik Gudbranson (in 2010), wing Jonathan Huberdeau (2011), and center Aleksander Barkov (2013) — all played significant roles last season. Florida also won the draft lottery in 2002 and 2003, but traded away those picks.

‘‘We are thrilled to have selected Aaron with the No. 1 pick,’’ Tallon said. ‘‘He is a strong, smart and physically mature defenseman who skates well and can play at both ends of the ice. Aaron is another building block for our team and we are confident that he will fit well with our young nucleus of talented players that includes Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson.”

Ekblad was the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman last season, ranking first among blue liners with 23 goals and tying for fifth with 53 points. He also served as Barrie’s captain.

Ekblad said he was NHL ready and should fit in with the Panthers after a recent scouting mission.

The Sabres selected center Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick. He is the son of former NHL player Paul Reinhart, who was selected by the Atlanta Flames in the first round in 1979.

The Edmonton Oilers selected center Leon Draisaitl with the third overall pick, Calgary took center Sam Bennett with the fourth pick, and the New York Islanders picked forward Michael Dal Colle fifth. Vancouver selected forward Jake Virtanen with the sixth pick, Carolina took defenseman Haydn Fleury seventh, Toronto took forward William Nylander eighth, Winnipeg selected forward Nickolaj Ehlers ninth and Anaheim completed the top 10 with forward Nick Ritchie.

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