There was a huge sigh of relief Thursday morning in south Florida, particularly within the Panthers organization.

Defenceman Aaron Ekblad was back on the ice with his NHL teammates, one week after leaving the North American squad at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto with what was believed to be a concussion.

Ekblad later told reporters the diagnosis was a mild neck injury, not a concussion, saying the way he was shouldered hard into the boards by Finland's Leo Komarov in the team's Sept. 18 World Cup opener brought soreness to his neck and gave him a headache.

"When you get whiplash like that, there's restricted blood flow to the head that causes symptoms because the blood doesn't drain out of the head as fast. That's why you get symptoms without it being a concussion," said the 20-year-old Ekblad, who's preparing for his third NHL season.

Ekblad has sustained two concussions in his career, the most recent last Jan. 10 when the two-time all-star missed four games after Edmonton's Matt Hendricks hit him and was suspended for three contests.


"I think he's probably getting used to the league a little bit," said Panthers general manager Tom Rowe of Ekblad in a recent interview with the Florida Sun-Sentinel. "He probably needs to be a little more aware in certain situations, but I don't think we're overly concerned about it."

Now that Ekblad and his doctors know the cause of his concussion-like symptoms at the World Cup tourney, they have a better chance of dealing with future problems.

A native of Windsor, Ont., Ekblad signed the richest contract in Panthers history this off-season, an eight-year extension worth $60 million that starts next season.

Ekblad, who had 15 goals, 36 points and a plus-18 rating last season, could make his pre-season debut Sunday in London, Ont. The six-foot-four, 215-pound rearguard played junior in the Ontario Hockey League with the Barrie Colts.

Ekblad was the first overall selection at the 2014 NHL draft and went on to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie after scoring 12 goals, including four game-winners, and 39 points in the 2014-15 season.