The Panthers have said Ekblad will need 12 weeks to recover. They did not disclose the extent of the damage – hockey teams are rarely specific about the injuries, and the team went so far as to say he had undergone surgery to “fix a broken lower limb” .
But it was obvious when he was injured Sunday night in Dallas that it was a serious matter, and Monday’s announcement only confirmed that. The 12-week deadline means he won’t be able to play until the end of June at the earliest.
“Not having a player of Aaron’s caliber and character is an irreplaceable loss for our hockey club,” said Panthers general manager Bill Zito. “Aaron is an incredibly motivated and talented young player and a great leader for our team. He has the sincere support of our organization, his teammates and fans as we wish him the best in his recovery and eventual return. Despite the absence of Aaron from our lineup, we are confident in the resilience and motivation of our group as we move forward. ”
The playoffs begin the second week of May, and the Stanley Cup Final will likely start in late June or early July at the latest. And there’s no way of knowing if Ekblad will be ready, even if the Panthers – who haven’t won a playoff since 1996 – are coming this far.
“He’s been great this year,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday. “I think he’s had so many games where he was dominant defensively, his offensive contributions joining offense, adding a different dimension to our power play, meaningful minutes, games, control of game results. You couldn’t ask for anything more. ”
Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar were among the best defensive duos in the NHL this season. Ekblad has 11 goals and 11 assists for the Panthers this season, and his 878 minutes on the ice have led the team away.
Ekblad was injured midway through the second period of Sunday’s game after a hit from Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell. Ekblad fell very awkwardly and his teammates said he could be heard screaming in pain on the ice. A blast of air was eventually placed on his left leg and Ekblad was removed from the ice on a stretcher.
He was able to return home with the team on Sunday night. Florida begin a four-game home game against Dallas on Tuesday.
The Panthers are on track for the playoffs. At 22-9-4, they are third in the Central Division, with just two points entering the first Monday and 11 points ahead of fifth Chicago. The top four teams from each division go to the playoffs; Florida has 21 more regular season games, Chicago 20.
“It will be difficult to do without him,” said Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. “But we’re going to be there for him and we’re going to support him. ”