(WSVN) - The Florida Panthers welcomed back defenseman Aaron Ekblad this season.

The former number one overall pick by the franchise in 2014 suffered a season-ending leg injury last March that forced him to miss the playoffs.

Now, Ekblad is back with renewed energy, purpose and desire to play the game after it was taken away.

“It’s crazy,” Ekblad said. “Really excited, obviously, to be back. Being with the boys is the best part about playing in the NHL. To be back on the ice and in full stride, kind of a dream come true, obviously.”

When asked what the most difficult part of his journey back was, he said, “The first two weeks, obviously the pain of the surgery is incredible. Had a hard time managing that pain early on, but I was able to get through it, you know, with ease. For the first two, three weeks it was tough, but after that when I was able to move around and come to games and see the guys, that was a big milestone to get through.”

When asked where he was and how he handled watching the playoffs, Ekblad said, “Well, I was at every game. I watched down here and did rehab in between periods and watched during the game. I wasn’t able to do anything about it but I tried my best to stay engaged. It was great to watch and get that different perspective. I don’t ever want to do that again. I’d like to play and be on the ice as much as I can.”

When asked how special it was to be playing on a team among all-stars, he said, “Well, beyond that, up and down the lineup is great, not just us three. We have an unbelievable team. On paper, we have to show out this year and one of the main messages, I think, is it’s not gonna be easy just ’cause we did it last year. We wanna be sure that we’re taking every game one by one and giving it our all.”

Given what he had to endure, Ekblad shared how he helped his teammates: “I mean, it was a little different being out and coming back and that kind of emotion, the rest of the room is hungry. They know what they left on the table last year and we have to chase and the new opportunity that comes with this season.”

When asked if he likes being considered the top-five team, he said, “In house, we never wanna overrate ourselves. We wanna come in with that hunger and, like I said, it’s a new opportunity, it’s exciting and it’s great to be highly regarded, but with that comes kind of a target, right? Every game is difficult. No one’s gonna take you lightly. No one’s coming to South Florida to sit in the sun. They’re coming to play us and they’re gonna be ready.”

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