Panthers expect Aaron Ekblad to be out about 12 weeks after surgery

Considering how gruesome Aaron Ekblad‘s leg injury was on Sunday, it’s not surprising that he’s out long-term. It is, however, interesting to learn of a relatively specific window of recovery. Following successful surgery to repair ” a fracture in his lower extremities,” the Panthers announced that Aaron Ekblad is expected to be out about 12 weeks.

“To be without a player of Aaron’s caliber and character is an irreplaceable loss to our hockey club,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said. “Aaron is an incredibly driven and talented young player and a tremendous leader for our team. He has the heartfelt support of our organization, his teammates and fans as we wish him the best in his recovery and his eventual return. Despite Aaron’s absence from our lineup, we are confident in our group’s resiliency and motivation as we move forward.”

Panthers expect Ekblad to miss about 12 weeks following leg surgery

Again, that 12-week window is intriguing. If you do wishful injury math, could a late June/ early July appearance be possible? Especially under the motto that “hockey players are tough” and sometimes beat their recovery windows? A Panthers fan might imagine Ekblad returning deep into a playoff run, like Steven Stamkos did for the Lightning.

(By rules of such dreaming, that would mean for more than mere minutes.)

In the grand scheme of things, that’s probably not very realistic. Rushing Ekblad back would come with risks, and he could suffer setbacks. Naturally, that would require a deep playoff run for the Panthers, too.

But it sure makes it sound like Ekblad has a good chance to be available for the Panthers to start the 2021-22 season. When it comes to serious leg injuries, it’s fair to wonder how long it would take for Ekblad to return to full strength, yet this at least doesn’t sound like the worst-case scenario.

Injuries like these can present bumps in the road, though. To reiterate: Panthers fans should be patient with Ekblad’s recovery.

No easy replacement

Even with that injury-shortened game against the Stars taken into account, Aaron Ekblad has been averaging a career-high 25:05 TOI per night. That’s a significant bump up from his previous career-high of 23:39.

Ekblad scored 11 goals already (a nice full season for a defenseman), and had 22 points in 35 games to go with that workhorse burden. He’s been up to snuff from a “fancy stats” perspective, to boot.

So, yeah, this is a huge loss for the Panthers. An “irreplaceable loss,” according to Zito.

Could this injury change the Panthers’ approach heading into the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline? Florida Hockey Now’s George Richards believes that the Panthers are “definitely in go-for-it mode.”

Maybe that would push the Panthers to up their efforts to land the likes of Mattias Ekholm?

For all that’s gone right for the Panthers as they jockey with the Lightning and Hurricanes for the top spot in the Central Division, they now have to deal with an enormous obstacle. We’ll get a better idea of what the Panthers are made of with Ekblad out for 12 weeks, aka the remainder of the regular season, and most likely the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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