Aaron Ekblad was going to miss the start of Florida Panthers training camp because of his commitment to the World Cup of Hockey.
The Panthers just hope their rising star just doesn’t miss too much time after getting hurt at the NHL preseason showcase.
Ekblad, the 20-year-old defenseman who signed the richest deal in franchise history this summer, suffered a concussion while playing for Team North America at the World Cup in Toronto on Sunday night.
Florida general manager Tom Rowe said Tuesday afternoon that he had been in contact with Ekblad’s agent as well as Florida coach Gerard Gallant — an assistant on Ekblad’s team in Toronto — and things are OK.
“I spoke with his agent, Jeff Jackson, this morning and Gerard and both said it’s real minor,” Rowe said. “They say he feels really good. Gerard’s right there, keeping an eye on things.”
Ekblad missed Monday’s World Cup game after being run into the glass by Finland’s Leo Komarov the previous night.
Although Ekblad finished Sunday’s game, he sat out Monday’s game against Russia and won’t play in another.
Although Rowe said earlier in the afternoon Ekblad would remain in Toronto for the duration of Team North America’s stay in the tournament, the Panthers confirmed Tuesday evening that Ekblad is heading back to South Florida and will be evaluated by team doctors when he arrives.
“We were thinking of bringing him back here,’’ Rowe said earlier in the day. “He wants to stay with his team.”
North America, 1-1 in the round-robin tournament, plays what could be its final game Wednesday against Sweden.
Team North America GM Peter Chiarelli said Ekblad is day-to-day, but the Panthers made it clear they didn’t want Ekblad competing in the NHL-sanctioned tournament anymore.
“We’re not going to risk it, we have too much at stake,” Rowe said.
Ekblad is entering his third season with the Panthers and signed a eight-year, $60 million contract extension which kicks in next season.
The first overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, Ekblad was the 2015 rookie of the year and has missed just five games with the Panthers over his first two seasons.
Florida went 0-3-1 in the four games Ekblad missed last year because of a concussion he suffered on a hit from Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks.
“We’ve missed everything,” Gallant said then. “He’s a 19-year-old kid but means a lot to our team obviously.”
Said Jaromir Jagr: “I didn’t think we were going to miss him that much but we did.”
Teammate Vincent Trocheck is also part of Team North America (comprised of American and Canadian players age 23 and under) with Gallant serving as an assistant.
Florida’s Sasha Barkov and Jussi Jokinen are playing for Finland in the tournament.
Florida veterans report to training camp Thursday with physicals at BB&T Center in Sunrise. The first workout of the 2016-17 season comes Friday morning in Coral Springs.
▪ Denis Malgin scored his sixth goal in three games to lead the Panthers to their rookie tournament championship on Tuesday afternoon at the IceDen in Coral Springs.
Malgin scored with 1:14 remaining to give Florida a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Florida went 3-0 in the tournament which concluded with that victory. The Panthers beat rookie teams from Nashville, Washington and Tampa Bay over the course of a four-day span.
The Lightning came into Tuesday’s game 2-0.
Kyle Rau, who will be battling the 19-year-old Malgin for a roster spot when camp opens Friday, scored his second goal of the tournament in the second period to tie the score at 1.
The Panthers were coached by their new AHL bench boss Geordie Kinnear; Florida begins its first season in Springfield, Massachusetts, with the Thunderbirds this season.
“The compete level was off the charts,” Kinnear said afterward. “They were tired today, but they still found a way to dig in and get the job done. I was proud of those guys.”