Sharks’ Eklund Looks to Lead Sweden to World Junior Gold

San Jose Sharks fans will only have one prospect to cheer for at the under-20 World Junior Championships (U-20 WJC) that begins on Dec. 26 in Alberta, Canada. Although he stands alone representing the Sharks, William Eklund is the one prospect fans should be most excited about. After a nine-game cameo with the Sharks this season that left all of us wanting more, Eklund was returned to his Swedish club Djurgardens IF. Eklund’s mission now is to stick with the Sharks full-time as of the 2022-23 season, and the U-20 WJC’s performance is a big step to realizing that goal. Here’s a look at how Eklund fares to impact team Sweden.

Destined for SHL Relegation Battle

Eklund’s SHL team is at the bottom of the standings, and the leading scorer on the team is former Shark Marcus Sorenson. Djurgardens IF has only won once since Eklund returned to action on Nov. 18. He seems to be doing his part with five points in the nine games he’s played; there just isn’t a whole lot of support. Djurgardens seems destined to battle Jonathan Dahlen’s former team Timra IK to avoid relegation to the Allsvenskan. This will be an important test for the young Shark forward to see if he can be a leader on this struggling team.

Team Sweden’s Outlook

According to oddsmakers, Team Sweden has a legitimate shot at winning the 2022 U-20 WJC. According to different sites, they are somewhere between fourth- and fifth-most likely to win. Of course, Team Canada and the United States lead the way, but Russia and Finland should be in the mix too. It’s hard to gauge exactly how well the Swedes can do because their last tournament was derailed by multiple Covid positives that forced their coach and multiple players, including Eklund, to miss the 2021 U-20 WJC. The previous team never really gelled and lost to Finland in the quarterfinals.

William Eklund San Jose Sharks
William Eklund, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aside from Eklund, Team Sweden boasts some elite talent. They have arguably the best goalie in the tournament in Jesper Wallstedt, who returns after a strong tournament in 2021. The defense is stacked with Simon Edvinsson, Emil Andrae, and Helge Grans, and forwards Isak Rosen, Fabian Lysell, Zion Nybeck, and Theodor Niederbach should give Eklund plenty to work with. If Wallstedt can steal a couple of games, the rest of the team is certainly good enough to do their part en route to a deep run at a medal.

A Chance to Dominate

Eklund hasn’t had the opportunity to play against players in his age group for several years. The last time was in 2019 at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he helped Sweden win the Bronze medal. He had one goal and four assists in the tournament. Eklund was part of both the under-18 World Junior Championship in 2020 and the U-20 WJC in 2021, but the former was canceled due to travel restrictions of the evolving pandemic, while the latter he missed due to a positive COVID test.

Related: 2022 World Junior Championship Swedish Players to Watch

Eklund should be one of the best players at this tournament and has a good chance to win the most valuable player award if Sweden can make it to the end. Regardless of how his country does, this is a time for him to make a statement. That statement should be, “I am too good to play against my peers.” Eklund needs to show the Sharks that he is ready for tougher competition, not only in the SHL, but the best league in the world — the NHL. How he performs at the U-20 WJC will go a long way to determining where he plays for the majority of the 2022-23 season. If he struggles the rest of this season, a full-time NHL gig will be in question.

Will Sweden Win Gold

I find it hard to believe that Canada will fail to win gold two years in a row with the tournament in their backyard. After being stunned by the Americans in 2021, I think it’s Canada’s turn. If Sweden does win gold, though, I predict Eklund will be the most valuable player in the tournament. He will have to be at the level Trevor Zegras was in 2021 for the Americans if Sweden is to have a chance. I think he can be that good, but it is time for him to prove it.