The Tampa Bay Lightning meet its cross-state rival Florida Panthers on Thursday for the home opener and fans ought to notice the hunchback of Notre Dame is playing for the opposition sporting No. 5.
Saturday’s pre-season match was the first time I got to see first overall pick Aaron Ekblad in action with the Panthers and his skating style is something to well, wonder about. Ekblad is listed as 6’4″ but skates like he’s maybe 5’9″.
When Ekblad skates, for the most part his back is bent in a hunch and his feet and ankles are overly flexed to dig in with the balls of his feet to skate backward. Somehow it’s served him well. I don’t know how well it will serve him in the NHL.
My first reaction was that it looked like he had to go to the bathroom really bad, or he already did and was trying to make it off the ice. He also looks like a goalie doing skating drills. And it also looks like because he’s hunched over, that he plays with a stick more suited for Marty St. Louis.
I’ve Googled a combination of terms to see what scouting reports and others have said about his skating style and ability, and the results were all over the place. A couple posts talk about his “excellent skating ability” and another said he’s working to “refine” his skating.
Only thing I could find in a news or blog source acknowledging this is from David Staples in an Edmonton Journal report from March:
He is an efficient skater, if not particularly smooth. He’s got a powerful stride though and he covers a lot of ice with his efficiency. He actually skates slightly hunched over so he doesn’t appear quite as large as he is due to this style. He displayed some very good agility throughout the game with his good edge work and ability to turn on a dime.
And one poster in a message board forum compared it to Wayne Gretzky’s hunched stride. I’d love to hear more about his skating style from experts or from people watching or working with him on the Barrie Colts.
Gretzky really only skated hunched over when going forward. Ekblad didn’t do too much forward hunched skating, more backward.
What this does for a defenseman is having your feet in a maximum torque position to explode out of that backward stride into a turn when the forward starts to shift or to battle for a loose puck when it gets knocked off a stick. Usually you’ll see players look like they’re in a floating motion when transitioning from side to side, forward to backward.
Bending at his waist also gives Ekblad more of a permanent extended reach, too. That takes a different line of thinking to work with that in a hunched skating style. Traditional skaters would more so lean to get some extra reach or throw a surprise poke check.
Like Staples said, he still appeared agile. He still looks to be fluid (save for a cross checking penalty).
What makes this game great is seeing unconventional styles rise by exceptional players. Or sometimes legendary players who overcome a weakness (Luc Robitaille’s slow skating).
He’s made it to the NHL with this stride and was granted exceptional status at 15 to go into the OHL, so something’s working, right?