TORONTO -- Slightly more than two weeks after sustaining a concussion that briefly halted an eventful summer, Florida Panthers prospect Aaron Ekblad said he is close to being fully recovered and ready for training camp.
"The concussion is almost perfectly, completely gone. I feel great," Ekblad said Saturday at the 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase. "I've been skating all this week and I feel good."
The No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the defenseman was injured playing for the Canada World Junior team in an exhibition game against the Czech Republic. The 18-year-old said he has been symptom free for five days.
"The work I'm doing is just getting back to normal paces. Getting game ready on the ice and just doing little things off the ice to get back up to what I was doing before," Ekblad said. "[Florida's] team docs wanted to talk to me and see how I was feeling. I kept in touch with them."
Ekblad attended his first NHL development camp before attending Hockey Canada World Junior summer camp. It was during Florida's camp in July that he got to know some of the young players who are expected to help lead the Panthers' rebuild.
"[Aleksander] Barkov and [Vincent] Trocheck are two guys who were at development camp, so I got to meet them. I got to spend quite a bit of time with Trocheck and actually pick his brain," Ekblad said. "[I] got a few texts from Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson. It was pretty nice of those guys to do that. It was pretty cool to have those guys welcome me to the team and help me feel more comfortable."
Ekblad is already considered a key piece of a strong corps of talented prospects (No. 1 according to NHL.com), including forward Nick Bjugstad and defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Dylan Olsen. But the Panthers' free-agent signings this summer have him especially excited by the thought of joining a Panthers team that has won four Stanley Cup Playoff games since 1996.
Florida looked to accelerate the development of their young talent by signing a number of veterans, including forwards Jussi Jokinen, Dave Bolland and Shawn Thornton, and defenseman Willie Mitchell. Ekblad was particularly excited at the prospect of playing alongside Mitchell, a veteran of 12 NHL seasons who was drafted by the New Jersey Devils five months after Ekblad was born (in 1996).
"Willie Mitchell and Shawn Thornton, just think about who they are and what they've done. Mitchell has two Stanley Cups and Shawn Thornton is a big bruiser there," Ekblad said. "It's pretty cool to think that I'll have that opportunity."
Ekblad's plan is to be on the Panthers roster when they open their season Oct. 9 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"That's my goal. If you don't believe it and prepare for it, then you're already putting yourself behind others. I'm prepared to play in the NHL this year and really battle for a spot," he said. "Obviously I look ahead to what I want for myself in the future. But you can't really look too far ahead. You're here and in the now. It's not like I have a 10-year contract where I'm able to look at that and look forward. I have to prove myself here and now before I can even think about that."
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