In last year’s draft, the Detroit Red Wings ran it back to 2008 and introduced Hockeytown to a bunch of Swedish players. Their top pick (fourth overall) was winger Lucas Raymond, pick 32 was defenseman William Wallinder and pick 51 was forward Theodor Niederbach. Fast forward to today, and those three are some of the most exciting players in the Red Wings’ prospect pool – and for good reason! Entering the 2021 draft, the Red Wings have an opportunity to build on what they started last year and introduce even more Swedish blood into the mix.
Related: Red Wings 2021 Draft Coverage
With the sixth overall selection, the Red Wings could potentially add defender Simon Edvinsson or winger Fabian Lysell, who will get their own articles in the future, or they could potentially select forward prospect William Eklund. One of the highest rated prospects in this year’s class, Eklund is a strong candidate to go inside the top five picks; to that point, in our most recent Grind Line article, I mentioned the Columbus Blue Jackets as a team I would expect to have a lot of interest in drafting him. There’s good reason to believe that this player won’t still be on the board when the Red Wings’ pick is up, but if he is, the Red Wings should absolutely pounce on the opportunity to take him.
I love Swiss Army Knife-type of players that can fill whatever role you throw at them. I love those types of players even more when they have the potential to be a difference-maker, and that’s what I think we have here in Eklund. It starts with the fact that he has experience playing on both the left wing and down the middle. Naturally, the offensive side of his game gets let loose when he’s on the wing, and the defensive side of his game gets magnified down the middle.
That being said, no matter where he’s at in the lineup, he never looks lost on the ice; I asked Alex Hobson, one of the many writers on our draft team here at THW, about Eklund, and one of the first things he said was, “the 5-foot-10 forward can play any forward position and thrives at creating space for himself and his teammates on the ice.” Eklund is one of those players that is “good at everything”, and that bodes well for him as a future 200-foot player.
I think the team that drafts him will ultimately play a big role in determining where he fits best on an NHL roster. I think he has the goods to be a top line winger as a complimentary player, or as a second line center that drives his own line. The Red Wings have a need for both of those types of players, and it would be interesting to see how they would handle him if given the opportunity to draft him.
His ability to be effective on both the wing and down the middle makes me think of Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames, and there are some other similarities between the two outside of just their versatility in the lineup. Lindholm currently holds the the best scoring rate for a draft-year player in the SHL since 2010 (.63 points per-game; P/G), which played a big role in the Carolina Hurricanes eventually selecting with the fifth pick of the 2013 draft. Eklund is right behind him with a .55 scoring rate this season after scoring 23 points in 40 games. It’s not just about their volume of production, though. It’s how they get it done that makes these two players fairly similar as well.
Like Lindholm, Eklund is a player whose first impulse is to set a play up, whether he’s playing center or on the wing. “He’s an incredibly shifty player with an above average shot and high end playmaking skills. He loves to slow the pace of the game and use it to his advantage, creating open ice to make plays,” Hobson said. His on-ice vision is solid, and he knows how to make small plays in order to maintain puck possession until a shooting or passing lane opens up.
Eklund is strong on his feet and doesn’t get knocked off the puck too easily. Make no mistake, though: this kid can absolutely bury it if given the opportunity. You’re not going to be teeing him up on the power play, but he can finish a play off if he’s in the right spot. Lindholm has produced at a scoring rate of .63 P/G through eight seasons in the NHL using a lot of these same tools. There’s no reason to believe that Eklund couldn’t reach that same kind of production.
If you’re looking for the Red Wings to add some size to their prospect pool, then this is not the player for you. He is listed at 5-foot-10, and I think that’s being generous. While we’ve seen more and more smaller guys come into the NHL and find great success, the question about how Eklund will handle the behemoths of the NHL will persist until he proves he can do it. This could ultimately be what forces him out to the wing in the NHL instead of down the middle; you have to have plenty of strength to succeed playing center in the NHL, so adding muscle to his frame as he physically develops is going to be incredibly important (he is currently listed at 172 pounds.)
In the case of the Red Wings, they really seem to value their players having a filled-out frame so that they can handle the physicality of the game in the NHL. For example, a player like Taro Hirose has shown the ability to create offense in a depth role with Detroit, but he has yet to stick with the roster due to a lack of size (he is listed at 5-foot-10, 162 pounds), resulting in him getting knocked off pucks fairly easily. His overall inconsistent production and tendency to take risks with the puck doesn’t help his case either. (From ” Taro Hirose faces ‘uphill battle’ to make Detroit Red Wings. Here’s why”, The Detroit Free Press – 2/6/20)
With all due respect to Hirose, Eklund’s skill far surpasses the Michigan State product, but there is a key lesson to be gleamed here. If the Red Wings have concerns about Eklund’s ability to handle the physical demands of the NHL, that could very well be the deciding factor of whether or not they draft the young Swede. All that considered, we have seen players like Johnny Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat find success in the NHL despite their small statures. It all depends on the player’s skill level, as well as their ability to adapt to the challenges of the NHL.
I’m of the opinion that Eklund is one of the more NHL-ready players in this draft. Despite that, I still think that he, along with literally every other player in this draft, could use more time in a lower league before making the jump to the big leagues. In terms of how close he is, I would compare him to the aforementioned Raymond, who spent this season in the SHL after the Red Wings drafted him in the Fall of last year. After signing his entry-level contract earlier this year, it appears that Raymond will have an opportunity to make the Red Wings’ roster in training camp. If he can’t lay claim to a roster spot, he will more than likely spend the season in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins. This trajectory could be the exact same for Eklund.
This is far from a bad thing. The Red Wings seem to be starting a similar approach to incorporating prospects into the lineup as the Tampa Bay Lightning (general manager Steve Yzerman’s former team – who would’ve thunk!?) What I mean by that is that the Lightning seem to introduce a fresh face or two into the lineup year after year, but they don’t introduce too many kids at one time as to handicap their lineup with inexperience. Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen became full-time players this season for the Red Wings this season, and Joe Veleno and Moritz Seider look to have a good chance at joining Detroit next season. Having Eklund in the pipeline gives them another talented forward that they can sprinkle into the lineup down the line, and that’s something Red Wing fans could definitely get excited about.
Fit with the Red Wings
Eklund is a somewhat unique prospect in that he could potentially address two different needs within the team’s prospect pool. He could fill the need for another top six center, or another top line winger – either/or would be welcome. Either way, he could very well become a favorite of head coach Jeff Blashill (should he still be in that position) due to his two-way play. The Red Wings have always seemed to prefer their players to play that way, and this player already has a solid base to work with.
The only potential problem I foresee with Detroit picking Eklund is that the organization would suddenly have a ton of playmakers in the system, but not nearly as many finishers. Eklund, Raymond, Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, and even captain Dylan Larkin are all players that are at their best when they’re looking to create for others. Aside from Jakub Vrana and Filip Zadina, Detroit lacks prospects that have that killer instinct when it comes to scoring goals. I’m not mentioning this to deter anyone from boarding the Eklund hype-train, though. Teams should jump at the opportunity to draft a kid like him – the rest can sort itself out later.
Best Player Available
“Eklund is without a doubt a top five talent in this year’s draft,” Hobson stated, and I can’t say that I disagree with him. While I think this year’s draft is quite unpredictable in terms of who the best players really are, this player is one that is firmly in the conversation as one of its best. I would not be surprised one bit of another team picking ahead of Detroit grabs him, but if he’s there to be had with the sixth pick, Yzerman and the rest of the Red Wings organization should be elated to have the opportunity to add him to an already impressive prospect pool.
“Impact player with a high skill level. He has the desire to make a difference and the ability to deliver in the critical and demanding moments.” – Craig Button, TSN
“Away from the puck, he (has) the motor and speed-generation ability to chase down loose pucks and get involved physically.” – Will Scouch
“Calling Eklund anything short of a puck wizard would be borderline insulting. He’s the most talented of any draft-eligible forward in terms of pure puck skills and there isn’t a situation or coverage that has proven to limit his creativity.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.