Ekblad follows in steps of Tavares

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:40 PM ET

New York Islanders sniper John Tavares viewed his successful early application to the Ontario Hockey League as a major step in his development as a player.

Now, Aaron Ekblad will get that same head start.

The 15-year-old defenceman a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from Belle River who averaged over a point a game with the Sun County Panthers minor midget team this season was granted exceptional-player status and will be eligible for the OHL draft a year early the first player to do so since Tavares in 2005.

I know I have lots of work to do, said Ekblad, who is represented by the Bobby Orr Group. Im looking forward to this challenge. Its a privilege to play in the OHL and Ill go wherever Im chosen.

Hes the favourite to be the first overall pick by the Barrie Colts on May 7. Wherever the big blue-liner lands, he will relocate a lot further from his home near Windsor than Tavares did in moving from Oakville to Oshawa something he said the Ekblads would work out.

Ekblad and his family initiated the application through the Ontario Hockey Federation, their home branch. He received the unanimous thumbs up from a confidential Hockey Canada national panel, which considered a series of tests of his physical, emotional academic well-being, as well as a psychological evaluation of him and his parents.

Many players possess the physical tools, but it is the combination of Aarons education record, his emotional maturity which is well beyond his stated age, his recognition of the challenges which lay before him and his understanding of what will be required of him to meet those challenges, said a panel-issued release.

Ekblad shrugged off the talent-level comparisons to Tavares, who went on to post 443 points in 247 games in four years before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL draft.

Im my own player, he said.

Ekblad will take part in the OHLs development combine this weekend at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. His older brother Darien, a goaltender, is a London Knights prospect.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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