With the first pick of the NHL draft, the Florida Panthers went with 15 seconds of dramatic pause before announcing the name.
The silence felt much longer for Aaron Ekblad.
“I was just sitting there just kind of scared and excited at the same time,” he said.
At last, general manager Dale Tallon made the call for Ekblad, selecting the defenseman with the first pick in the Friday night.
Ekblad, a 6-foot-4, 214-pound defenseman who played for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League, is the first defenseman to go No. 1 since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006.
Without a clear cut No. 1 on the board, 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.
The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Kasperi Kapanen, a right winger from Kuopio, Finland , with their first round pick at number 22.
Pens get wingers in trade
The Pittsburgh Penguins sent forward James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Both teams announced the trade Friday night.
The addition of Neal signals the Predators’ emphasis on boosting their offense under new coach Peter Laviolette as they attempt to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The 26-year-old Neal had 27 goals and 34 assists in 59 games for the Penguins this season, which marked the sixth straight year he scored at least 20 goals.
Neal scored 40 goals in 2011-12 and had 21 goals in only 40 games during the 2012-13 season. He has 161 career goals and 154 assists in 413 career regular-season games, and has been a force on power plays.
Hornqvist, 27, had 22 goals and 31 assists in 76 games this season, which marked the fourth time in his career he reached the 20-goal mark. He has 106 goals and 110 assists in 363 career regular-season games, all with Nashville.
Hornqvist’s best season came in 2009-10, when he scored a career-high 30 goals.
“In this deal, we got to drop our cap a little bit with Hornqvist,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “We like Hornqvist as an all-around player. Hornqvist plays at the net, goes to the net, works the corners. We like his all-around play.”
Spaling, 25, had 13 goals and 19 assists in 71 games for Nashville this season.