Florida isn’t taking any chances with Aaron Ekblad.
Ekblad, the franchise defenseman that was shook up on a Leo Komarov hit during North America’s win over Finland on Sunday, is reportedly on his way back to South Florida and expected to miss the remainder of the World Cup, per the Miami Herald.
From a source within the Panthers organization, the Herald reports Ekblad suffered a “mild concussion” on the hit. Florida also told the NHL it doesn’t want him playing in the tournament anymore.
Team North America brass, meanwhile, isn’t saying much.
GM Peter Chiarelli said Ekblad is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, and head coach Todd McLellan reiterated that diagnosis following North America’s 4-3 loss to Russia on Monday night — a game in which Ekblad was scratched and replaced by Jacob Trouba.
“Upper-body, day-to-day, don’t know how long he’ll be,” McLellan said. “And it’s a big loss.”
It’s not coincidental that “TNA” lost its first game without Ekblad in the lineup. The first overall pick in 2014, Ekblad burst onto the NHL scene and has emerged as arguably the best young defensive prospect in hockey.
After capturing the Calder in ’14-15, he racked up an impressive 15 goals and 36 points in his sophomore campaign last season, receiving a handful of Norris votes in the process.
Ekblad quickly emerged as a linchpin on the North American blueline. He averaged close to 22 minutes per game in the three exhibitions, finishing with two goals and an assist, then played a team-high 23:53 in the win over Finland.
It’s pretty obvious why the Panthers want Ekblad out of this tournament.
He’s a budding star, already one of the faces of the franchise and a major investment — this summer, he inked a monster eight-year, $60 million extension with Florida, one that will keep him with the organization through 2025.
Because of that, it’s almost impossible to think Ekblad will return to play for Team North America in this tournament.