As they prepare their cap for the impending return of Aaron Ekblad, the Florida Panthers have sent three players to the minor leagues. Lucas Carlsson, Aleksi Heponiemi, and Matt Kiersted have all been sent to the Charlotte Checkers.
Ekblad was injured in the middle of October and has played just three games this season. He is eligible to return on Saturday after missing the requisite LTIR time, and head coach Paul Maurice is expecting him in the lineup.
Patric Hornqvist is also expected back in the coming days, though he was never placed on injured reserve in the first place. To make room for Ekblad, the team still needs to clear a bit more salary, likely meaning someone else will be going down when he’s activated. For now, the team has to keep at least 20 players on the roster.
It’s huge news for the Panthers, especially given how strong Ekblad was last season. The veteran defenseman set a new career high with 57 points in 61 games and finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting. Florida has been okay without him but still sit at 8-5-1 on the year, not exactly the start they wanted after winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2021-22.
Ekblad’s return will go a long way to getting them back to being an elite team in the league, even if it does cost them some NHL depth to fit his salary in.