In this special edition of PROSPECT PRESCRIPTION, DobberHockey spoke with the coaches of two players who made big news this week, namely 15-year old phenom Aaron Ekblad and free agent French national and Merrimack College standout Stephane Da Costa.
In 2005, the OHL tagged John Tavares with 'exceptional player status' granting the then 14-year permission to enter the league's annual priority draft. Tavares was selected first overall by the Oshawa Generals and four years later, the Mississauga native was drafted first overall in the NHL Draft by the New York Islanders.
The OHL got it right back then and now Aaron Ekblad, a 15-year-old defenseman from Belle River, Ont., is hoping lightning strikes twice. This past season, the six-foot-three, 200-pound Ekblad starred for the Sun County Panthers Minor Midget AAA program, recording 34 points in 30 regular season games. But his coach Frank Evola told PROSPECT PRESCRIPTION that the numbers don't indicate all that he meant to his team.
"He [Ekblad] plays every situation. He knows every situation. He's aware of every situation," explains Evola. "And in terms of skill set, Aaron has all the elements. He has all the tools. He's mature, he's poised and his hockey I.Q. is off the charts. He's a very good skater. He skates well for a big boy. There are not too many boys of his stature that skate like him. He's got a very heavy shot. But most importantly, he's a quality young man. He's almost like a man to be honest with you."
And that is important as the OHL only grants its 'exceptional player status' on players that combine a tremendous skill set with academic and social maturity. Evola says Ekblad, who is expected to go first overall to the Barrie Colts, has it all – in spades.
"Aaron's a very good student. He could have gone to any college he chose, if that's what he wanted to do. If you sat down and had a conversation with him, you wouldn't think he just turned 15 years old. He's truly beyond his years, not only when he's playing hockey."
Ekblad has played in the Sun County hockey program since he was nine years old and Evola says from Day 1 everyone knew he was going to be something special.
"Obviously, he grew into his body. He played all the way up to pee wee major at his own level and then at bantam minor, he decided to make the jump so he made the request and as an organization, we thought it was the best situation for him at that time in his development. And everything paid off. We do it for other guys too, if they're in that type of category."
Evola says Ekblad doesn't necessarily have a 'wow' factor to his game, he's just rock solid o