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Ekblad excels at 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge

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The Canadian Press
1/3/2012 11:52:42 AM
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WINDSOR, Ont. -- Defenceman Aaron Ekblad's strong showing at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge has solidified his standing as a player to watch.

Just 15 years old and an already physically imposing six foot three and 207 pounds, Ekblad has continued his fine play as a rookie with the OHL's Barrie Colts as a member of the Ontario team at the under-17 tournament.

Jim Sandlak of the Anaheim Ducks is one of many NHL scouts who have been impressed with Ekblad all season long.

"This guy looks anything but out of place, both in the OHL and at this tournament. He is always so poised and calm with the puck," said Sandlak. "He is very mobile for his size, especially given his age.

"Usually you have to wait for a big kid to grow into his body, but Ekblad seems to be growing in strength, speed and skill along with his body."

Ekblad, an assistant captain despite being the youngest player on the team, scored his first goal of the tournament in Ontario's 4-3 semifinal loss to Russia on Tuesday. He also has two assists in five games.

Defence has been his mission and Ontario officials are delighted with the big teenager.

"Aaron has the ability to rush the puck and make big plays with the puck, but we've asked him to take on more of a defensive role on this team and he has excelled in being a shut-down defenceman for us," said Barclay Branch, Ontario's director of operations. "He has been everything that we expected, and even more."

While Ontario has run into penalty trouble during the tournament, Branch says Ekblad has consistently displayed restraint and maturity beyond his years.

"Aaron has taken on a leadership role with us," Branch said. "He can be a vocal leader on the ice, and his maturity has gotten us out of some difficult situations throughout the tournament.

"Aaron Ekblad embodies everything that we want out of our group, both as hockey players and as young men."

The native of Belle River, Ont., has played a regular shift and on both special units with unbeaten Ontario, just as he has all with the Colts although he has not been doubled-shifted as much as he has been in Barrie.

"Winning our games is the biggest satisfaction for me," Ekblad said. "Every night you can have a different role on our team, depending on how the game is going. If we are up by a few goals, I'm not going to jump up into the rush. I have no problem staying back and playing a solid defensive game too.

"I'm satisfied playing any role I'm given as long it contributes to helping my team win."

Ekblad, who is not eligible until the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, could player in the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, although the world junior championship isn't out of the question.

Branch, for one, wouldn't be surprised.

"Aaron is in a unique situation at a lot of levels," Branch said. "Based on the way he has played both with the Colts and at this tournament, I think he will be given a long look by the Hockey Canada brass to play on the under-20 team next season."

Ekblad is not looking that far ahead, however.

"Playing in the world junior tournament has always been a dream for me, but I'm not looking ahead that far just yet," he said. "I'm just taking things one step at a time and whatever happens, happens."

Aaron Ekblad (Photo: Terry Wilson Photography)

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(Photo: Terry Wilson Photography)
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