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NHL's top defender in December: Aaron Ekblad

Aaron Ekblad ended December first in the NHL in shot suppression. Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

What's one of the biggest reasons that the Florida Panthers have gone on this fantastic surge since December?

Their defense has been really good, keyed by last year's Calder Trophy winner, 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad, and his defensive partner, veteran Brian Campbell.

We picked Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings as our Defensive Player of the Month for October/November and are following that by selecting Ekblad for December, with Campbell not far behind.

The Panthers closed December with a seven-game winning streak (now at nine games with two wins in January) in which they allowed a total of 10 goals. Ekblad, 19, and Campbell were huge parts of it. They each tied for second in Defensive Point Shares, a stat that measures defensive value, as listed at Hockey-Reference.com.

Ekblad ended the month first in the NHL in shot suppression, according to multiple advanced metrics. When he's on the ice, opponents average 46 shot attempts (shots, blocked shots or wide shots) per 60 minutes, the lowest number for any defenseman in the NHL. Campbell ranks fifth in the NHL in that stat this season.

In the last 10 games of the month, Ekblad and Campbell each averaged about 17 minutes per game of 5-on-5 and allowed two goals in their time on the ice. That's led to this current stretch in which the Panthers are dominating defensively. They've allowed zero goals or one goal in seven of the nine games.

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Two of the other strong contenders for the award came from the same team: John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski of the Dallas Stars.

Those two ranked 1-2 in Corsi differential at 5-on-5 for the month. Klingberg was on the ice for 355 Stars shot attempts in those situations, while opponents registered 258, a plus-97 differential. Goligoski was on the ice for 343 shot attempts by the Stars, while opponents registered 252, giving him a plus-91 that matched Doughty for second-best.

These two defensemen helped the Stars to a 9-3-3 record in December.