Florida Panthers

Star defenseman is out with concussion so Florida Panthers rookie gets his shot

MacKenzie Weegar brings up the puck for the Florida Panthers’ AHL Portland Pirates last season.
MacKenzie Weegar brings up the puck for the Florida Panthers’ AHL Portland Pirates last season. Portland Pirates

Aaron Ekblad, star defenseman of the Florida Panthers, was knocked out of Saturday’s loss in Tampa to what coach Tom Rowe confirmed was a concussion.

On Monday, rookie defenseman MacKenzie Weegar is expected to be at Florida’s practice in Coral Springs and the 23-year-old could make his NHL debut against the visiting Maple Leafs at BB&T Center.

Weegar was a seventh-round draft pick by the Panthers in 2013 and has been part of the organization since leaving his junior team in Halifax in 2014.

In 165 minor league games for the Panthers in two different leagues, Weegar has 22 goals and 76 points.

For Florida’s Springfield Thunderbirds in Massachusetts this season, Weegar has been strong with 12 goals and 29 points while registering a plus-7 earning him a spot on the AHL All-Star team.

Eric Joyce, Florida’s assistant general manager who runs the AHL Thunderbirds, said Weegar has been Springfield’s best defenseman this year and said the Panthers will tender him when he becomes a restricted free agent following this season.

“If we had to call a defenseman up today, it would be him,” Joyce said last month. “That’s in large part to the work he has put in over the past three years. He started out in the ECHL, bounced around with us a little bit but now, he is really understanding what he has to do off the ice to be at this level.

“He has been our best defenseman overall, was an AHL all-star.

“If you took all the contracts out of it and we needed a guy based on performance, it would be MacKenzie. He is a guy we are excited about. He’s going to compete for a job with us next year.”

For Ekblad, if he was indeed concussed, it would be at least his third head incident in the past 14 months.

Ekblad was held out of the final games of the World Cup earlier this season in what he described was a case of whiplash after rammed into the glass by Leo Komarov in the opening game of the World Cup between Team North America and Finland.

“The way I was told, it was about blood flow,'' Ekblad said upon returning to practice with the Panthers.

“When you get whiplash like that, there's restricted blood flow to the head and that causes systems because the blood doesn't drain out of head as fast. That's why you get symptoms without it being a concussion.

“There's pressure there in your head giving you headaches. ... I'm just trying to be a better hockey player. In the end, it's about getting that 1-percent edge on everyone."

Ekblad also missed a handful of games last year after suffering a concussion after being hit from behind by Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks — for which he was suspended three games.

Saturday, Ekblad was again hit from behind as Tampa Bay’s Gabriel Dumont drove Ekblad into the glass with a high elbow.

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