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    Panthers pick Aaron Ekblad first in draft

    No. 1 draft pick Aaron Ekblad pulls on his new Florida Panthers sweater. AP Photo/Matt Slocum
    Matt Slocum/AP
    No. 1 draft pick Aaron Ekblad pulls on his new Florida Panthers sweater.

    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.

    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 out of Belle River, Ontario, with the first selection at the Wells Fargo Center.


    ‘‘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.

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    “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 defensemen with 23 goals and tying for fifth with 53 points. He also served as Barrie’s captain.

    Flyers fans packed the arena for the first draft in the city. They gave one of the longest sustained boos in recent memory for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s draft introduction. He was drowned out for most of his two-minute speech thanking the city for its hospitality.

    ‘‘Isn’t this supposed to be the city of brotherly love,’’ he asked.


    Former Flyer Rod Brind’Amour received a huge ovation when the Carolina assistant coach made the pick for the Hurricanes.

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

    Reinhart has the potential to be a top-line center in filling a key need for the rebuilding Sabres, who are coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history. Buffalo (21-51-10) finished last in the NHL standings, and set a franchise record for losses.

    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, and Carolina took defenseman Haydn Fleury seventh.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs took forward William Nylander eighth, the Winnipeg Jets took Danish left wing Nikolaj Ehlers ninth, and the Anaheim Ducks took left wing Nicholas Ritchie 10th.


    The Bruins have the 25th pick in the draft.