While participating in Hockey Canada's summer evaluation camp for its national junior team, Florida Panthers' top pick Aaron Ekblad suffered an upper-body injury and will no longer participate in camp activities. Ekblad was on the wrong end of a hard hit in an exhibition game against the Czech Republic Tuesday night and was said to be wobbly on his feet following the blow. He immediately left the game and did not return.
Here's a GIF of the hit in question via @myregularface:
According to TSN's Ryan Rishaug, Ekblad has been shut down for the remainder of camp due to both the Panthers and Hockey Canada wanting to play it safe.
Ekblad told reporters last night that he was OK, so this may not be a terribly serious situation, but it's probably still a bit scary for the Panthers to see their top pick go down like that.
The No. 1 overall selection in 2014 was a big part of Canada's junior team at last year's World Junior Championship and is considered a lock to make the team if he's available (which probably won't be the case).
Ekblad actually has yet to sign his entry level contract, which would undoubtedly come with the maximum amount he can make under the ELC system. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Ekblad won't make the Panthers out of camp and play a bigger role on the team next year, which is why it's rather curious he was in Canada's camp at all.
With such a valuable asset, you would think the Panthers might want him to play it safe and not participate in the highly-competitive camp games at this late stage of the summer, just about a month before training camps open.
Last year, Colorado Avalanche top pick Nathan MacKinnon was invited to Canada's camp, but did not participate in the on-ice portion. The U.S. did the same with Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones and Alex Galchenyuk, all high first-rounders for last year's junior evaluation camp. A similar set-up would have been prudent for Ekblad, considering the chances of him not making Canada's squad are next to nil.
There's nothing wrong with a guy getting on the ice and getting some reps in, but these summer camps, where players are competing for roster spots for a team that won't even hit the ice until December, offer a high-risk situation. Perhaps too high-risk for a player that the team just used the highly-valuable first overall pick on.
If Ekblad wasn't injured, we probably aren't even talking about it, but because he was, it calls to question the motives of allowing him to participate in this event. With the World Juniors on home ice with games split between Montreal and Toronto, there's a lot of pressure on the Canadians to halt a five-year gold drought. That's not the Florida Panthers' problem, though.