Scouting for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft had its issues, but a player everyone was talking about was Swedish forward William Eklund, whom the San Jose Sharks selected at seventh overall on Friday evening.
What were they saying?
There’s so much praise for Eklund’s playmaking and hockey IQ, as he is largely considered one of, if not the best forwards in this year’s draft class. A recurring weakness is his skating, but if his work ethic is as great as it sounds, he’ll have no problem adjusting to the NHL-level.
I’ve gathered a quick round-up of scouting reports and tape break downs on Eklund. I encourage you to check them out fully, but I also pulled some quotes from each piece.
This is what the experts think of San Jose’s first-round selection:
What mostly stood out for me about Eklund in this game was his work ethic. I haven’t seen a 2021 eligible prospect who works harder than Eklund, offensively and defensively. It’s most noticeable without the puck. Eklund backchecked for almost half of the rink, going 100 percent from a standstill just to force a dump-in by the puck-carrying forward. Eklund’s conditioning must be insane. His two-way habits are elite. He scans his surroundings consistently in the defensive zone, closes passing lanes and recovers loose pucks consistently. He keeps his feet moving in all zones and at all times. — Lassi Allen
There is no doubt in my mind that Eklund is the top forward in this class. He might even be one of the very best forwards (top-five?) to come out of recent classes. There is just so much there. Energy, pace, work ethic, incredible deceptive skills, rush patterns, net-drives, tipping ability, foresight. Nothing is missing in his skill-set. The skating is hunched over, but it doesn’t matter as Eklund drives as hard as he can all the time. Non-stop energy. Just blastin’ up and down the ice if that’s what was needed. He also has off-puck abilities, don’t get me wrong. He adjusts his speed to the play, scans his surroundings, establishes his pocket of space, and presents himself as a pass or shot option. — David St-Louis
His 14 points in 19 games in the SHL so far rank up there with the likes of the Sedin twins and Peter Forsberg for production at this age. While he may not possess the upside that those players have in terms of being borderline generational players and certainly franchise players, Eklund should be a difference-maker at the NHL level. His play has elevated the play of 2020 seventh overall pick at times this year, proving that he is doing far more than riding passenger with a veteran and a top prospect. Eklund has the shooting ability to be a legitimate goal-scoring threat as well as the creativity and playmaking talent to be the facilitator. He plays with speed and pace, often overwhelming less talented defenders with his persistence and desire to play in the middle of the ice and around the net. He finds himself space with good body positioning and the ability to bounce off defenders. He battles hard down low and doesn’t give up on plays often, making him a hassle on nearly every shift. — Tony Ferrari
Eklund is the highest IQ player in this draft. He already understands coverages better than most NHL top six forwards. The Stockholm native seems to know what defensemen are going to do before they themselves make a decision. As a result he manages to get completely free around the slot, near the crease, behind the net, and in the circles more often than seems plausible. With the puck on his stick he puts his brain-power to use as well. He turns players inside out regularly on the cycle, not through outrageous moves, but by cutting back on himself at the very moments his marker least expects him to, leaving them out of position and with Eklund free to walk in towards goal. — Alexander Appleyard
Eklund uses the larger European ice surface to his advantage in most of the highlight packages that showcase his goalscoring prowess. His shot is undeniably good. The potentially scary thought is the manner in which Eklund scores many of his goals by driving to wide-open swaths of ice in front of the goaltender. The opposing defensemen in the SHL tend to use poke checks to take the puck off an attacker’s stick rather than going for a body check because the broad ice surface could make them look very silly if they miss a check and the forward simply side-steps them. In the NHL though, the condensed ice surface and the more physical nature of the game could spell some trouble for the skilled forward. — Hank Balling
Eklund was an important player on an SHL team as an 18-year-old — a rare feat for a first-year draft-eligible player — and played well for Sweden’s national team. He has good, not great, straightaway speed to go along with fantastic edgework. He shows tremendous elusiveness to evade pressure and create space with his skating. Eklund skates fast, but it’s his skating plus his compete that earned the trust of big minutes as he showed he could be responsible off the puck. He combines that with a high skill level, a very imaginative hockey IQ offensively and the ability to execute difficult plays at speed. His ability to play in the high-traffic areas and win battles, but also play on the perimeter and be a primary set-up guy, will make him a versatile NHL player. In a sentence, Eklund projects as an undersized first-line NHL winger with dynamic attributes. — Corey Pronman
The scout continued: “He surprised everyone a little bit. He was good last year, but he kind of exploded this year. He holds onto the puck so good, he protects it really well. He plays a mature game. He’s not one of those junior guys that comes up and skates all over the place. There’s a meaning in everything he does. I think he can be trusted, and that’s why he’s playing so many minutes for them. He was part of a good line too, and of course that helps, but he also scored a lot.” — Emily Kaplan
Despite the comparison to Devils prospect Alexander Holtz by Zator, there’s another Devils player that Eklund bears a strong resemblance to on the ice: Jack Hughes. Modern Jack Hughes that is, not Jack Hughes of his draft year, which is a notable difference and improvement. Eklund is a playmaker with filthy edges and agility to break a grown man’s knees at will. He’s got ice vision for days and can find room for himself or find a passing lane in any situation. The reason I say modern Hughes instead of 2019 Hughes is his defensive ability. Unlike pre-draft Hughes, who was basically above the defensive zone and his lack of defensive skill was notable, Eklund knows how to manage his defensive positioning and is a voracious backchecker, which is much more reminiscent of the Hughes we’ve seen this past season. — Jenna Verrico
Eklund has spent most of his time in the SHL at left wing, however played centre at junior levels and for the Swedish National Junior teams. Given his skating, playmaking ability, and defensive game, he likely will be a centre at the NHL level. With a year of professional hockey, against men, under his belt, Eklund is one of the more NHL-ready prospects in this year’s draft. However, it is not a sure thing, and he would have to perform in training camp. Another year in the SHL and a World Junior experience would not hurt his development either. However, I would not expect him to be more than a year away at most. Eklund’s game is reminiscent of Henrik Zetterberg but this is a style comparison only and not one based on skill and ability. — Ben Kerr
Eklund’s game is centered around his puck possession skills, but—somewhat similar to Dawson Mercer—he may not always get full marks for how intelligent he is on-ice. Whether setting up a play or shooting, Eklund is able to register and react to nearly every moving part around him. [...]
A noticeable knock on Eklund’s game is his skating. It won’t hold him back entirely at the NHL level, but he may not be able to beat defenders with it. The good news is that’s not what he’s molded his game around. He will, however, need to work on some small skating mechanics: under-torso stride recovery, knee bend (at times), and crossover acceleration—as you’ll notice on the failed zone exit above. — Eric D