SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are going to be without one of their most relied upon players for the remainder of the season.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad is expected to miss 12 weeks after having successful surgery to repair a fracture in his left leg, the team announced Monday.
“To be without a player of Aaron’s caliber and character is an irreplaceable loss to our hockey club,” Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said in a statement released by the team. “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.”
Ekblad suffered the gruesome injury during the second period of Florida’s 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday night.
It happened in the corner of Florida’s offensive zone during a power play, when Ekblad’s skate appeared to get caught in the ice following a collision with Stars defenseman Esa Lindell.
The 2014 first overall pick came down awkwardly and instantly began screaming in pain and grabbing for his left leg. A stretcher was brought onto the ice and his leg was placed in an air cast.
“It’s tough to see a teammate and a good friend go down like that,” Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said.
The game itself was delayed for nearly ten minutes as paramedics worked to stabilize Ekblad and take him off the ice.
Huberdeau said he and his teammates “got pretty emotional” when they visited Ekblad between periods.
“When you see your teammate and your friend on the ice, it’s never easy,” said Florida defenseman Keith Yandle. “Whether it’s a guy on your team or a guy on the other team, it’s tough to see that.”
While nothing was official, it seemed clear that the 25-year-old had suffered a significant injury.
Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville indicated as much after the game, saying he thought Ekblad would miss an “extensive” amount of time.
“You lose a guy that’s having one of those seasons, a defenseman playing big minutes and in all situations, and when you lose him, you lose his leadership,” Quenneville said. “It’s tough. It’ll be a good test for us.”
The Panthers currently sit in third place in the Central Division with a 22-9-4 record, one of the best in the NHL.
Also keep in mind that the league’s trade deadline is coming up in two weeks, on Monday, April 12.
Whatever plans Zito may have had ahead of the deadline - there are rumors he was already looking for a top four defenseman - you would think those plans have been altered in some way after losing Ekblad.
In the meantime, Florida’s players know that there is a big void that will need to be filled if the team is going to continue on its mission to win a playoff series for the first time in 25 years.
“He’s been a huge part of the success that we’ve had,” Yandle said of Ekblad. “It’s one of those things where everyone has got to step up and contribute as much as we can to fill those shoes.”