Following the nine game deadline for juniors-eligible players, the San Jose Sharks have loaned forward William Eklund to Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League for the remainder of the 2021-22 season.
This may come as a shock to some, as Eklund had been penciled into the team’s top-six all season long, where he registered 4 points (0 goals, 4 assists) through nine NHL games. He’ll now return to the Swedish club he spent his past two seasons with in Djurgardens, and try to develop his game there.
“This was one of the toughest decisions we have had to make,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a release. “William’s tremendous skill and vision have been evident since his participation in our rookie tournament in September. In his nine NHL games as a teenager, he has shown that he is going to be a special player in this league but ultimately, we feel it is in the best interest of his long-term development to return to Sweden and continue to work on becoming the dominant player we know he can be.”
On the analytical side of things, Eklund struggled, posting a -1.5 goals above replacement and -0.3 wins above replacement. He struggled at even-strength both offensively and defensively, but also showed bright spots on the power play due to his strong hockey IQ and vision.
If Eklund had played one more game, it would’ve burned the first year of his entry-level contract. Now as it stands, we won’t see his contract expire until 2025, which gives the team more time before burning money into his next deal.
Eklund, who is still freshly 19 years old, could’ve been assigned to the San Jose Barracuda in the American Hockey League as well, but the team opted to send him back to Europe. This won’t be the last time Sharks fans can watch Eklund this year though, as this assignment likely means we will see him represent Sweden at the World Juniors Championship in Alberta this winter.
When the team is fully healthy, Eklund played largely on the second line next to Tomas Hertl, so now the question is who will plug into that position with him gone? The options seem to be slim pickings, with Matt Nieto, Andrew Cogliano, John Leonard and Jonah Gadjovich among some of the potential candidates, unless the team dares to bring Evander Kane back into the fold when his suspension ends, which has yet to be determined.
Sharks players have praised Eklund this season. Captain Logan Couture called him a “very good player” and said that he was going to be “elite in this league” after last night’s loss to the St. Louis Blues.
All-in-all, it’s nothing for Sharks fans to worry about in the long-term. Eklund playing the entire season never really seemed to be a major part of the plan for this season, even sitting out as a healthy scratch when the team visited the Boston Bruins on Oct. 24.
However, in the short-term, the Sharks are 6-4-0 and now have a huge hole in their top-six and only time will tell if that’s filled by a trade, signing or internally.