Team North America suffered its first loss of the round robin stage of the World Cup at the hands of Russia Monday night, but the bigger loss may have been on the blueline as reports have surfaced that defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s upper-body injury could be a concussion.
Hours before the teams were slated to hit the ice, the North American club announced via Twitter that Ekblad, 20, would be out of the game with an upper-body injury. However, it was reported shortly thereafter by ESPN’s Craig Custance that Ekblad was suffering from a concussion, which looks to have come on a hit from Finland’s Leo Komarov in the opening game of the tournament for the North American squad.
Following the 23-and-under team’s nail-biting 4-3 loss to Russia, North America GM Peter Chiarelli told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Ekblad was day-to-day, but Chiarelli wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the injury.
“He’s day-to-day and I’ll leave it at that,” Chiarelli told Friedman. “But he’s a guy that’s important to our team and as you can see tonight, we’ve missed him.”
The likelihood is that if Ekblad is suffering from a concussion, his chances of returning at some point in this tournament are slim. Not only does Team North America need to worry about the health of Ekblad, but the Florida Panthers will likely want to see their all-star defenseman pulled from the lineup for the duration of the tournament so as to ensure he’s not injured further. And according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards, that’ll be exactly the case.
Richards reported that the Panthers have told the league they don’t want Ekblad playing in the rest of the tournament, though Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reported the plan is to have Ekblad remain in Toronto for the rest of the competition. Having Ekblad miss time in the World Cup is a tough break for North America, but having him out of the lineup come the regular season because of an injury during the tournament is the worst-case scenario for the Panthers.
Ekblad, who was drafted first overall in 2014, has become the face of the Panthers blueline in just two short seasons. In his debut season, he captured the Calder Trophy with an impressive 12-goal, 39-point campaign in which he averaged 21:48 of ice time as a rookie. He followed that up this past season with a 15-goal, 36-point season, while averaging nearly the same amount of ice time.
Ekblad was rewarded this off-season with a massive eight-year contract extension that will pay him $7.5 million per season, or a total of $60 million over the lifespan of the deal. He has quickly become a fixture of the blueline, and he’ll almost undoubtedly be the No. 1 guy on the back end with former partner Brian Campbell heading to the Chicago Blackhawks in free agency.
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