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 six-foot-three and 216 pounds, Ekblad is expected to make Florida's opening day lineup despite the concussion. Selected first overall at the NHL Entry 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.
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