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Florida Panthers Clear Space for Aaron Ekblad Return Saturday

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Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, left, celebrates his game-winning overtime goal with Sasha Barkov against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Feb. 16. — AP Photo/Chris Seward

The Florida Panthers started making moves to pave the way for the return of star defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

On Thursday, Florida sent three players — Matt Kiersted, Lucas Carlsson and Aleksi Heponiemi — back to AHL Charlotte.

Ekblad has been on long-term injured reserve since being hurt Oct. 17 in Boston. He will have satisfied the 10 game and 24 day threshold by Saturday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

With Ekblad’s $7.5 million salary temporarily off the books, the Panthers were able to sign Eric Staal to a one-year contract as well as keep extra players such as Kiersted and Carlsson on the active roster.

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The Panthers may have to make another roster move to become cap compliant before activating Ekblad for Saturday’s game.

Florida will also get Matthew Tkachuk back from his two-game suspension on Saturday with coach Paul Maurice saying Patric Hornqvist may be close to return from the injury he sustained in the second period last Thursday in San Jose.

Hornqvist has missed the past three games and only skated before Tuesday’s practice.

If it appears he would miss another couple of games, it is possible he and Ekblad trade places on LTIR to create some temporary cap relief.

Ekblad has been practicing with the team since its west coast trip last week.

He is expected to return to Florida’s top defensive pair with Gus Forsling despite the strong play of Brandon Montour in his absence.

PANTHERS ON DECK

EDMONTON OILERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Split 1-1
  • All-time regular season series: Edmonton leads 21-14-0, 3 ties

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