Panthers' Aaron Ekblad Expected to Miss 12 Weeks After Surgery on Leg Injury

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist

Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars in Dallas, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The Florida Panthers won in overtime, 4-3. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)
Matt Strasen/Associated Press

Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad is expected to miss 12 weeks after undergoing surgery on a leg injury suffered during the second period of Sunday's game against the Dallas Stars, the team announced Monday.

Panthers general manager Bill Zito addressed the situation in a statement:

"To be without a player of Aaron's caliber and character is an irreplaceable loss to our hockey club. Aaron is an incredibly driven and talented young player and a tremendous leader for our team. He has the heartfelt support of our organization, his teammates and fans as we wish him the best in his recovery and his eventual return. Despite Aaron's absence from our lineup, we are confident in our group's resiliency and motivation as we move forward."

Ekblad left Sunday's game on a stretcher, with the Associated Press noting trainers placed an aircast on his left leg. The 25-year-old landed awkwardly on the leg after a hit into the boards by Dallas Stars defenseman Esa Lindell and immediately began clutching his knee.

Though the Panthers did not have an update on the 25-year-old's status on Sunday night, the team did send out its best wishes to the defenseman:

Florida Panthers @FlaPanthers

Ek ❤️ Incredibly, incredibly hard to watch. Not much else to say right now.

Teammate Anthony Duclair spoke about the situation, as well:

FOX Sports Florida & Sun @FOXSportsFL

"All our prayers and thoughts are with Eky right now." Anthony Duclair discusses having to play on after the devastating Aaron Ekblad injury. #FlaPanthers #OneTerritory #NHL https://t.co/f5OI6tBFXW

Ekblad has enjoyed a strong 2020-21 campaign so far. His 11 goals are only six away from setting a career high, and he delivered the overtime winner in Saturday's 4-3 victory over Dallas. 

Florida, meanwhile, will have to cope without yet another key player. Aleksander Barkov is nursing a lower-body injury, and Patric Hornqvist is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

The Panthers sit third in the Central Division with 48 points at 22-9-4, putting them in position to qualify for the playoffs. Ekblad's injury could loom large should the team qualify for the postseason, though.