Doug Wilson Jr., San Jose Sharks head of amateur scouting, when asked about his 2021 Draft selection first said that “To get that (William Eklund) at seven was huge for this organization, I’m thrilled we were able to keep our first.”
Now, was Wilson Jr.’s last sentence a commentary on the Sharks’ desire to pursue a trade down in yesterday’s festivities or a comment on the team trading their own 2020 NHL Draft first-round selection? It’s hard to tell. Regardless, a year removed from the Ottawa Senators drafting Tim Stutzle in place of San Jose, the Sharks were finally able to draft their own offensively gifted, versatile, fast-paced, European, and highly skilled forward in the form of William Eklund.
Who is William Eklund?
Simply put, Eklund probably should not have been available at seventh overall. When Wilson Jr. commented on his shock that the Swedish forward was available for the Sharks, he revealed that “we (the Sharks) had him second-overall on our list behind Matty (Beniers).”
What makes Eklund so special that San Jose would rank him second-best in the class?
He’s an offensive dynamo. Unfortunately, due to a bout preventing him from the World Junior Championships and an injury keeping him from the World Hockey Championships, he was never able to show that talent on the international stage. In the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Sweden’s professional men’s league, Eklund totaled 11 goals and 23 points for Djurgardens IF.
Of those who played the majority of the season, Eklund ranked second in goals, seventh in assists, and fifth in points-per-game on his team as an 18-year-old. Notably, he was ahead of New Jersey Devils’ 2020 seventh-overall selection, Alexander Holtz, in all those stats.
Eklund won SHL rookie of the year, as well as the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence from the NHL for his dealing with adversity in his draft year. This adversity took the form of a positive COVID-19 test, injury, and an emergency appendectomy all throwing a wrench into Eklund’s 2020-21 campaign.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Eklund is one of, if not the most, offensively gifted players in the 2021 NHL Draft. His vision and patience allows him the time to allow plays to develop and make the best play. His offensive instincts allow him to know when to charge the net, break out wide, pass, or shoot at any given moment in the offensive zone.
Likely, the 5-foot-10 forward will return to Sweden for a final SHL season after his development camp in San Jose. There was hinting that he could make the team right away, but eventually Wilson Jr. assured Eklund’s trajectory lies on the same path as current prospects such as Thomas Bordeleau and Ryan Merkley.
Most notably, the Sharks seem to want to mold Eklund back into a center. At the junior and second-division level, the offensively gifted forward slotted at center, but his first full SHL season saw him move to left wing. The Sharks notably have a lack of center prospects, with the main notables such as Bordeleau and Sasha Chmelevski likely moving to wing at the NHL level.
Regardless, Wilson Jr. mentioned that Eklund’s “one of those players you can put anywhere on the top line and be good to go.” Given his scoring prowess, that logic checks out. TopDownHockey’s NHL equivalency scoring model notes him as the most likely 2021 NHL Draft eligible to become a star.
Eklund becomes a blue-chip prospect in a Sharks’ farm system that has really lacked that level of talent since they drafted Timo Meier six drafts ago. The organization solely drafted forwards in 2020, and adding Eklund to an offensive stable of Bordeleau, Ozzy Wiesblatt, and Daniil Gushchin sees San Jose’s forward core in more than capable hands for years to come.
Eklund Is a Likely Star
I’m a little hesitant to call Eklund a center, mainly due to his large success at the professional level at winger. However, it is common for wingers in professional leagues to eventually transition to center, notably Tomas Hertl and Elias Pettersson took that route.
Regardless, Eklund will be a top-six forward in the NHL at minimum. His vision and ability to make quality decisions in the offensive zone is unmatched by any current Sharks prospect. In a year, Eklund will become a fan favorite in San Jose, and part of the team’s attempt to reassert themselves as a dominant NHL team.