The Panthers are in line to have their second NHL Rookie of the Year in the past three seasons as defenseman Aaron Ekblad was named one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy on Thursday.
Ekblad, 19, was the top pick of the 2014 NHL Draft and played in all but one of Florida's 82 games.
Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Ottawa’s Mark Stone — both forwards — are the other two Calder finalists. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas in June.
Nashville forward Filip Forsberg, considered a favorite to win the award early in the season, didn’t finish in the top three in voting.
Ekblad, who will play for Team Canada at the World Championships in the Czech Republic next month, wasn’t available for comment Thursday but spoke of the possibility of winning the award in the final week of Florida’s season.
The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Jonathan Huberdeau is Florida’s lone winner of the award, taking it in 2013.
“It would be great, it would be awesome,’’ Ekblad said late last month.
Ekblad set Florida’s franchise records for goals (12), assists (27) and points (39) by a rookie defenseman. Ekblad’s 39 points were two shy of the NHL record for an 18-year-old defenseman (he turned 19 on Feb.7), set by Hall of Famer Bobby Orr — his agent — in 1966-67.