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NHL

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NHL draft
Top 10 picks
1. Florida, Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
2. Buffalo, Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
3. Edmonton, Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
4. Calgary, Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
5. N.Y. Islanders, Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)
6. Vancouver, Jake Virtanen, RW, Calgary (WHL)
7. Carolina, Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
8. Toronto, William Nylander, C/RW, Modo (Sweden)
9. Winnipeg, Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
10. Anaheim, Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
Associated Press
Aaron Ekblad pulls on a Florida Panthers sweater after being chosen first overall in the NHL draft on Friday. Ekblad is a defenseman who played for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League.

Defenseman goes No. 1 to Panthers in NHL draft

– 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 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.

“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. 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.”

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 2-minute speech thanking the city for its hospitality.

“Isn’t this supposed to be the city of brotherly love?” he asked.

Bettman heard a “Let’s Go Flyers!” chant when he introduced the hometown team for the 17th pick.

“That’s more like it,” he said.

There was mild applause when the Flyers selected little-known defenseman Travis Sanheim.

Buffalo selected center Sam Reinhart with the second overall 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.

Edmonton 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.

There was a big trade before the draft, when the Anaheim Ducks acquired center Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and the 24th pick.

Nashville traded forward Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward James Neal during the draft.

Fort Wayne’s Blake Siebenaler could be drafted today.

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