It isn’t exactly a secret that things haven’t been going well for the San Jose Sharks over the last three years. It also isn’t a secret that most of the prospects who have come through the ranks have been mostly underwhelming.
But just like how the Jedi depended on a Force-sensitive boy from Tattooine to lead the charge against the Galactic Empire, the Sharks have their own sign of hope: a 19-year-old from Haninge, Sweden named William Eklund.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Christian Eklund, William played for Sweden’s Djurgardens IF, as Christian did for almost 20 years. The younger Eklund rose through the ranks, playing for Djurgardens U16, U18 and U20 teams before making his debut with the senior team during the 2019-20 season, at just 17 years old. Though Eklund did not score any goals and only recorded two assists in 20 games, just playing with the men’s team at that age is impressive enough.
In his first full SHL season, Eklund began to make waves with draft analysts, to the point where Alexander Appleyard of Smaht Scouting called him “the best player in terms of level [in the 2021 NHL Draft] right now.” It was not an unsubstantiated claim, either. At one point in the season, as Appleyard noted, Eklund’s points per game rate was up there with the Sedins and Peter Forsberg as a historical comparison. Those are Hall of Fame-level historical comparisons.
The main draw heading into the 2021 draft was Eklund’s playmaking. Steve Kournianos at The Draft Analyst quipped, “Calling Eklund anything short of a puck wizard would be borderline insulting.” He continued, “There’s simply no way to prepare for him as he can be as dangerous from the top of the right circle as he is behind the net or along the goal line. Eklund keeps his feet moving constantly and playing with a sniper like [Alexander] Holtz allows him to exploit defenses that may cheat towards the weak side out of fear of a one-timer.”
Eklund was ranked as the number one European skater in the draft by NHL Central Scouting, but on draft day, he fell out of the top five.
Before we continue, let’s go on a trip through alternate history, shall we?
Thanks to some detective work by Sie, it was revealed that the Sharks were pushing hard to acquire Buffalo Sabres, now Florida Panthers forward, Sam Reinhart, and would have sent the seventh overall pick to Buffalo. Had the trade taken place, the Sharks would have acquired Buffalo’s 14th overall pick in the deal along with Reinhart.
But as Eklund surprisingly continued to drop, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson changed course, holding on to the seventh overall pick to select Eklund.
After an impressive pre-season, Eklund ended up making the Sharks’ 2021-22 roster, and recorded his first NHL point in his first NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets. However, after his ninth game in the NHL, the Sharks sent Eklund back to Djurgardens to continue to develop. This decision was in part to avoid burning a year of his entry-level contract on a team that didn’t seem to have its footing. Eklund returned to Djurgardens, where he mainly played alongside former Shark Marcus Sorensen on the top line, but only appeared in 29 games due to injuries, while Djurgardens were relegated to the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan.
What We Like
As mentioned, Eklund’s playmaking is other-worldly, and I’m not even sure if that’s hyperbolic. That isn’t all there is to Eklund’s game, though. Draft experts also loved Eklund’s tenacity. “I haven’t seen a 2021 eligible prospect who works harder than Eklund, offensively and defensively. It’s most noticeable without the puck”, Lassi Allen at Elite Prospects said in a report.
David St. Louis concurred, saying, “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.”
Eklund also excels in his defensive game. “He is willing to work down low, supporting the defence against the cycle game. Eklund also does a good job of applying backpressure and helping the defence that way. His positioning is solid and he stays on the right side of the puck,” Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports wrote.
Areas of Improvement
As Eklund continues to grow as a player, putting on more muscle will be necessary — not just to win more battles in the corners, but also to improve his slap-shot and one-timer, as well as his face-off skills. Additionally, Kerr wrote that Eklund “could learn to be a bit more selfish and shoot more.”
Talk about ending your pre-season with a bang. Eklund’s playmaking and shooting talents are on display here, taking advantage of the two Vegas Golden Knights defenders colliding into each other and turning it into a give-and-go with Rudolfs Balcers, forcing Robin Lehner to commit to Balcers while Eklund buried it for the Sharks’ third goal of the game.