Aaron Ekblad didn’t talk too much about the Florida Panthers’ coaching change, which came late Sunday night.
On Brian Campbell, though, Ekblad’s demeanor quickly became upbeat. For the 20-year-old defenseman who’s already playing in his third NHL season, the time he played with Campbell was invaluable.
“Playing with him was my ultimate learning experience,” said Ekblad, who will face his partner when the Panthers play the Blackhawks Tuesday night at the United Center. “I got to play every game with a player who not only supported me and made sure I wasn’t making too many mistakes, but taught the game in a way that was simple and easy. Also, he was a very understanding guy. He let me do what I needed to do and helped me understand the game in different ways.”
Campbell rejoined the Blackhawks this offseason, signing a one-year, $2-million deal. Ekblad misses having Campbell as a teammate but the two still keep in touch.
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“I love Soupy. He was a great friend when he was around. Still to this day we send the odd text,” Ekblad said. “We had a little exchange when he was leaving Florida in the summer. I wished him the best. He congratulated me on a few things I’ve done and, of course, I reciprocated.”
So far, Ekblad isn’t having as strong a season as he has previously. He does have six goals but is a minus-7 through 22 games. But the Panthers went through a lot of offseason changes, including on defense. Campbell departed as an unrestricted free agent, Dmitry Kulikov was traded and Keith Yandle and Jason Demers were signed. Campbell said he’s certain Ekblad will be fine.
“I wouldn’t be too worried about Aaron. He’s such a great kid, great person. He works so hard at his game,” Campbell said. “I can’t say I’ve watched a whole lot of his games. I talked to him a little bit and I know he’s been switched around a little bit with different guys. Sometimes that’s a little bit of a challenge. There are some younger guys there now, too. I know when I played with him we talked a lot about situations and really tried to get on the same page. I’m sure that didn’t happen right away for us. Maybe he’s going through some stuff like that. But man, I’d love to have him on my team.”