Florida Panthers getting boost with return of Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montur

The Florida Panthers’ defenseman group is getting a big boost Friday.

The Panthers activated top blue liners Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour off injured reserve ahead of their 10 p.m. game against the Anaheim Ducks, with the duo expected to make their season debut as Florida caps its three game road trip. Ekblad and Montour had been sidelined as they recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

The team placed Josh Mahura on injured reserve to open the final roster spot needed to activate both players. Florida had one open spot on its 23-man roster before Mahura’s IR placement.

Ekblad and Montour had been practicing with the team for about three weeks and are a month ahead of the team’s initial hope of a mid-December return.

“It has been a long time,” Montour said before the team left for its three-game California road trip, which started with a 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and continued with a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. “We had a shorter offseason but for (me and Ekblad) it was longer because of the rehab. Any injury like this, the rehab is a long process and tough. There are long grueling days with treatment, working out, skate. It’s been long, but we’re close. I think for myself and Aaron, we’re feeling pretty good. We are excited with how the boys are playing.”

The Panthers have done more than hold their own in the absence of Montour and Ekblad. They enter Friday 10-5-1 through their first 16 games and are second in the Atlantic Division. This includes going 8-2-1 in their past 11 games.

The two have had to watch the success from a distance. Joining the group at practice only gave the duo a bigger desire to return to the lineup.

It looks like that will happen on Friday.

“At training camp, we were around but we weren’t in the sense of being at practice and preseason games and early in the season,” Montour said, adding that joining the group practices “just brings excitement. I mean, any time we’re in the locker room, we try to bring that boost, especially with the guys. We’re happy with their game and collecting wins. It just makes it that much better when we come back.”

Montour had a career season in 2022-23, setting personal best marks in goals (16), assists (57) and points (73) and average ice time (24:07).

Ekblad is the Panthers’ longest tenured defenseman but has dealt with injuries the past few years. In 625 games over nine seasons, all with the Panthers, Ekblad has logged 111 goals and 218 assists.