For the second time in three seasons, a member of the Florida Panthers was named the NHL’s top rookie.
Wednesday night, Aaron Ekblad was given the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas.
“This is the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done in my life,’’ said Ekblad, who is flying back to South Florida on Thursday to be a part of the NHL Draft being held in Sunrise.
“It’s pretty special to be up here.’’
The top pick of last year’s draft, Ekblad had an exceptional season and played the second-most minutes on the Panthers behind Brian Campbell.
Ekblad, 19, missed just one game because of stomach bug that affected just about everyone on the team in March.
In 80 games, Ekblad had 12 goals and 27 assists breaking Ed Jovanovski’s franchise records for goals, assists and points by a rookie defenseman.
Ekblad and Jovanovski are the only two No. 1 draft picks in Florida franchise history and both are natives of Windsor, Ontario.
Among those who represented the Panthers in Las Vegas included general manager Dale Tallon, president Rory Babich and alternate governor Bill Torrey.
“You have ups and downs but he’s had very few downs this year,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said last season.
“As coaches, we get upset when mistakes are made but that’s part of maturing. Everyone does it but it doesn’t bother the star players. It’s surprising he does that at his age.’’
Ekblad beat out Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Ottawa’s Mark Stone for the honors. According to the NHL, Ekblad won the award with 71 of the 154 members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association who voted giving him a first-place vote.
Ekblad, who played in the All-Star Game this past season, got a total of 1,147 voting points with Stone receiving 1,078.
“The most important part of any award is your teammates,’’ Ekblad said. “This is for them; I accept this on behalf of them.’’
Ekblad’s season didn’t get off to a great start as there was some question during training camp whether he would finish the season with the Panthers.
Florida could have sent him back to his junior team after nine games, but after his first couple games of the season, it was obvious he wasn’t going anywhere.
“In training camp, you could tell he was nervous,’’ goalie Roberto Luongo said at All-Star Weekend in Columbus.
“But then the regular season started and you didn’t notice that. He flipped the switch right away. You could never tell he’s 18. He’s that good. We’re happy to have him for sure.’’
Ekblad, who got a fifth-place vote for the Norris Trophy for top defenseman along with partner Brian Campbell, said before the award show that he is aware of the expectations on him.
Winning the league’s top rookie honors will only add to that -- although he doesn’t seem to care.
“I use expectations as motivation,’’ Ekblad said. “I really don’t sit around and listen to other’s expectations; the only ones that matter are mine. I have expectations for myself.’’
2015 NHL Draft
Top prospects clinic at Florida Panthers IceDen, Coral Springs; 10:30-noon (free)
Round 1 at BB&T Center, Sunrise; 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Rounds 2-7 at BB&T Center, Sunrise: 10 a.m. (NHLN)