This is the season that San Jose Sharks fans have been waiting for—a full season of William Eklund. The former first-round pick is set to play the majority of the season in the NHL this year after spending the last two years in the Swedish Hockey League and the American Hockey League. While it hasn’t been an easy road for Eklund after a terrible season in 2021-22 with Djurgården, he established himself with the San Jose Barracuda and showed why he was worth the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Last year, Eklund spent his first full season in North America and was one of the Barracuda’s best players. In 54 games, he scored 17 goals and 24 assists while playing top-line minutes. Slippery Pete was given a chance to play in every situation for the Barracuda and really rounded out the defensive aspect of his game by playing penalty kill minutes. While Eklund won’t be playing PK with the Sharks, it will help him become an everyday NHL player that head coach David Quinn can trust. He did get 8 games with the Sharks after the trade deadline, where he scored two goals and an assist in those games, seeing a healthy dose of top-line minutes before being sent back to allow for his contract to slide for another season.
The major growth in Eklund’s game is his willingness to shoot the puck more. He took 126 shots on goal in his 54 games in the AHL last year, or about 2.33 per game. He kept that up in his small NHL sample with 18 shots on goal in 8 games on the Sharks last season and was rewarded with two goals (yes, one of them was on a penalty shot). While he probably won’t be a 40-goal player in his career, regaining his confidence after going a full calendar year without a goal is a great sign for Eklund’s development.
William Eklund did have his season end early after requiring shoulder surgery. He did play most of the season with an injury to the shoulder but was able to gut through the year. While he didn’t participate in Development Camp on ice activities, he is expected to be 100% by the start of training camp and has been seen on the ice training.
Where does Eklund fit?
Heading into the 2023-24 season, William Eklund is expected to compete for one of the top six forward positions on the Sharks. General Manager Mike Grier has been committed to “overripen” his prospects and doesn’t want to see young players have their paths blocked by veterans, but does want them to earn it. William Eklund will be an interesting decision for Quinn and Grier at training camp because he should be considered a top-six forward but does have some competition for one of the four wing spots, especially with the additions of Mike Hoffman and Anthony Duclair this offseason. At some point, the front office has to realize that Eklund is the future and needs a legitimate run on the Sharks without having to look over his shoulder and worry about losing his job or being sent back to the Barracuda.
If Eklund isn’t healthy or has a bad training camp, he could start the year in the AHL, but he should be on the Sharks by Thanksgiving, given that this year will be a long season for the Sharks, and he needs to play NHL games. Another potential reason for the front office to start on the Cuda is that he is the only current forward who is waivers exempt. This shouldn’t be an excuse for San Jose to send him down, but the lack of flexibility among the forward group could lead to it. Again, the best thing for Eklund’s development is to get a full season in the NHL.
What’s next for Eklund?
A full NHL season. If Doug Wilson was still the General Manager, Eklund would have gotten about 40 games last year or started the season with the Sharks. This is not to say that Mike Grier is doing a bad job, just pointing out a difference in their styles. A fully healthy William Eklund heading into training camp should win a top-six role for the Sharks. With any tie between players, the nod has to go to the prospect.
While Eklund should be a top-six player for the Sharks this season, his power play utilization will be intriguing. Without a clear answer on the Sharks roster to run the power play, could David Quinn be looking at a five-forward unit? Getting the Sharks’ five best offensive players on the ice could lead to Eklund getting an opportunity on the top power play, even with the additions of Duclair, Mikael Granlund, and Hoffman this offseason.
If given a full season in the top six, Eklund has the potential to score 20 goals and tally 30 assists. The key for him this year will be to find that consistency in all three zones. There should be no reason that Eklund isn’t an every-night player for the Sharks this year, as they need to start to onboard the next core of players. Can David Quinn learn from his mistakes with the New York Rangers and give Eklund the opportunities that Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko didn’t get under Quinn?
Bold Prediction: William Eklund plays 75 NHL games and scores 20 goals and 40 assists, finishing fourth on the team in points.