Aaron Ekblad’s time at the World Cup was cut short due to an injury sustained during North America’s round robin tilt against Finland, and even after the 20-year-old blueliner failed to participate in the first skate at Panthers training camp, the team doesn’t seem too worried.
After the first practice, Panthers president of hockey operation Dale Tallon was asked for an update on Ekblad and said that he was sure the young defenseman would be fine, while GM Tom Rowe said it was nothing more than a bit of “bad luck.”
"Not overly concerned about it," Rowe said Tuesday, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "A little bad luck. I think he's still probably getting used to (NHL) a little bit. He probably needs to be a little more aware in certain situations, but I don't think we're overly concerned about it.”
Ekblad suffered the injury when he was hit behind the net by Finland’s Leo Komarov during the tournament-opening game for the North American squad, but he remained in the contest and it wasn’t until before North America’s second contest that any injury was suspected. Ekblad didn’t suit up for North America’s game against Russia, and he was flown back to Florida to meet with team doctors as a precaution, Rowe said.
"There's doctors [in Toronto],” Rowe said. “But we'd rather him come back here and see our docs.”
There were conflicting reports about Ekblad’s injury when he was ruled out of action, with some saying he had suffered a concussion and other reports speculating that it was merely a neck injury. However, on Tuesday, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported that it was a “neck injury” and “nothing major.”
It would have been frightening to think of Ekblad’s status had he suffered another concussion, though. This past season, Ekblad was forced to miss four games with a concussion and he had previously been knocked out of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship training camp in August 2014 with a concussion, so another blow to the head could have marked the third time he was on the shelf with a concussion in the past two years.
With Ekblad arguably becoming the No. 1 defenseman in Florida just two seasons into his career, though, Florida wanted to protect their player by bringing him home. He signed an eight-year, $60-million extension with the Panthers during the off-season, and he’ll be a major part of any successes the franchise has this coming season.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.