Aaron Ekblad

Panthers sign first overall pick Ekblad

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On Wednesday, Aaron Ekblad — the No. 1 selection at this June’s draft — took a major step towards beginning his NHL career by signing a three-year, entry-level contract with Florida.

“We are very pleased to have signed Aaron,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said in a statement. “He is a talented, strong, smart and hardworking defenseman who is ready to take the next step in his professional career.

“We look forward to watching him compete and develop at our prospects camp, throughout our main training camp and in preseason competition.”

Financial terms of the deal weren’t released but Ekblad, 18, is limited by the CBA for what he can earn annually (last year’s top pick, Nathan MacKinnon, had a $925,000 cap hit but made $3.775M with signing and performance bonuses.)

As for his spot with the Panthers…Ekblad looks to be in line for a top-6 spot next to Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen. That said, he will be challenged by a pair of fellow youngsters (Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic), and there are reports claiming veteran d-man Shane O’Brien is headed to Florida’s training camp on a PTO.

It’s also worth noting that, as per Tallon’s statement above, Ekblad will participate in both Florida’s prospects and full training camp, meaning he’s cleared to play after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game on Aug. 4 during Canada’s world junior summer development camp.

Sabres place Lehner on IR; Recall Lieuwen

Connor Brown, Robin Lehner
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They’re just one game into their regular season, but the Buffalo Sabres have already had to shift things around in their crease.

The Sabres announced that they have placed starting goaltender Robin Lehner on injured reserve after he was knocked out of Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury.

In a corresponding move, the club has recalled Nathan Lieuwen from their AHL affiliate in Rochester.

The 24-year-old didn’t play in the NHL last season, but he did have a 1-4-0 record with a 2.98 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage in seven games during the 2013-14 season.

Lieuwen was Buffalo’s sixth round pick, 167th overall, in the 2011 draft.

The Sabres also announced that they have loaned defenseman Jake McCabe and goaltender Linus Ullmark to the Rochester Americans (AHL).

McCabe was a healthy scratch in Thursday’s game against Ottawa, while Ullmark is being activated off I.R. after having double hip surgery during the off-season.



Chara ‘doubtful’ for game against rival Canadiens

Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara
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It looks like the Boston Bruins will be without their captain again on Saturday night.

Head coach Claude Julien told members of the media that Zdeno Chara is considered doubtful for tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Chara suffered an upper-body injury during the preseason and he’s already been forced to miss Boston’s season opening loss to the Jets.

Per CSN, Chara says he’s improving but he won’t return to the lineup until he’s as close to 100 percent as possible.

“Every area of the injury is improving,” said Chara. “Hopefully it’s not long before I’m free of any kind of discomfort. That’s what we’re doing right now…we’re being patient. For sure you don’t want to come back, and be half of what you are…and basically hurting yourself and the team. And you’re putting yourself in a position where you could be missing more time. At this time of the season, I think it’s important to be as close as you can be to 100 percent.”

Based on the number of defensive mistakes they committed on Thursday, the Bruins need Chara back as soon as possible: