Ek­blad A-OK, he says

Pan­thers’ No. 1 draft pick free of con­cus­sion-like symp­toms

SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By John Chidley-Hill

TORONTO — Aaron Ek­blad is get­ting back to work.

The first over­all draft pick of the Florida Pan­thers said on Satur­day he’s free of any con­cus­sion-like symp­toms less than three weeks af­ter he took a hard hit in a world ju­nior ex­hi­bi­tion game.

“The con­cus­sion is per­fectly, com­pletely gone. I feel great,” said Ek­blad. “I’ve been skat­ing all this week, work­ing out all this week. It’s gone. I feel great.”

The 18-year-old de­fence­man from Wind­sor, Ont., was in­jured on Aug. 6 at Canada’s world ju­nior train­ing camp in a game against the Czech Repub­lic. The Cana­di­ans went on to win 6-2, but Hockey Canada and the Pan­thers agreed to keep Ek­blad off the ice for the rest of the team’s sum­mer devel­op­ment camp.

Ek­blad said his con­cus­sion sub­sided between four and six days ago, al­low­ing him to fo­cus on fit­ness as he pre­pares for Florida’s train­ing camp in Septem­ber.

“The work I’ve been do­ing has just been get­ting back into the nor­mal paces — get­ting game ready on the ice,” said Ek­blad. “Just do­ing lit­tle things off the ice. Bring­ing it back up to the weight that I was do­ing it be­fore, whether it was a squat, try­ing to get back up to that weight be­cause I took that time off.”

Ek­blad was in reg­u­lar con­tact with the Pan­thers or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter the in­jury, even­tu­ally get­ting the green light to par­tic­i­pate in the NHLPA’s rookie show­case in Toronto on Satur­day and Sun­day.

“Their team docs ob­vi­ously wanted to talk to me, get a feel for how I was feel­ing,” said Ek­blad. “I kept in touch with them ev­ery day and just tried to let them know.”

At 6-3 and 216 pounds, Ek­blad is ex­pected to make Florida’s open­ing day lineup de­spite the con­cus­sion. Se­lected first over­all at the NHL Draft on June 27, Ek­blad showed some scor­ing touch with 23 goals and 30 as­sists for the On­tario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts last sea­son. Ek­blad had a to­tal of 40 goals and 76 as­sists over three sea­sons in Barrie.

De­spite high ex­pec­ta­tions, Ek­blad’s not ner­vous about his first NHL train­ing camp.

“I’m more ex­cited, but I’m a pretty level-headed guy,” said Ek­blad.

“I just want to con­tinue do­ing what I’m do­ing. Ob­vi­ously, you go to devel­op­ment camp and you learn about what it takes, and that’s what I’m work­ing on.

“I had that lit­tle set­back, so I’m just try­ing to get back into nor­mal paces.”

Ek­blad was the big­gest name of 33 play­ers at­tend­ing the rookie show­case in Toronto. Hockey trad­ing card man­u­fac­turer Up­per Deck uses the event to take pho­to­graphs of the rook­ies and prospects in their NHL uni­forms for use in their prod­ucts.

GRA­HAM HUGHES / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Florida’s No. 1 draft pick, de­fence­man Aaron Ek­blad, was in­jured in a world ju­nior ex­hi­bi­tion game against the Czech Repub­lic in early Au­gust.

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