Sharks fans, get ready to raise the 2021-22 Stanley Cup champions banner because William Eklund has signed his entry-level contract.
Ok, so maybe that’s a tad bit of an over-exaggeration. However, what’s not an over-exaggeration is that Eklund is a very gifted hockey player. So it should be no surprise that the player many see as the steal of the draft is looking to jump-start his NHL career next season. It was speculated that Eklund would be continuing his career overseas for another year, but I doubt Sharks fans are disappointed to learn that this may not be the case. On top of that, he is willing to play on the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, if he doesn’t make the NHL straight out of training camp. However, while he is pretty much a lock for a future Sharks talent, what does this next season hold for him?
Eklund managed to score 23 points in 40 games with Djurgårdens IF in the SHL. He was the youngest point producer on the team. Despite this, the Sweden native fell to seventh in the draft, and the Sharks wasted no time snagging him while he was still available. Now that Eklund has signed his entry-level deal, he’s eligible to play nearly anywhere he wants. Assuming he tears up training camp, there is a very slight chance he plays anywhere other than the NHL. The Sharks have lacked in nearly every aspect of their game since the 2019 Western Conference Final run against the St. Louis Blues. While Eklund would be a massive addition to the struggling Sharks offense, putting him straight into the NHL could be dangerous. The most important thing the Sharks can do to help his development is not rush him into the spotlight. Being a fantastic NHL talent is something that very few players are naturally gifted with. Since the 2016 entry draft, very few players have entered the league and tore it up immediately. While Eklund can immediately make his mark, chances are he will probably need at least a few months in the minors to craft his game further.
Most likely, Eklund will spend most of next year with the Barracuda or Djurgårdens IF. There is nothing wrong with letting players grow on their own time. While all Sharks fans are itching to get their first taste of promising development in a very long time, other players can be slotted into the NHL if Eklund is not ready. Despite the Barracuda ending the 2020-21 season with a mediocre record, a lot of talent is coming to the team next year. Eklund will most likely provide even more forward talent to a currently developing team. With the Barracuda on the rise, the Sharks too will be evolving over time. To some extent, unless Eklund is clearly ready to blow the NHL wide open, taking a Steve Yzerman approach to the team makes the most sense. Let him develop with the remainder of the prospect to get him slowly integrated into the system and familiar with the other prospects. Of course, he could always go back to Djurgårdens IF if he wanted to have another year in the same skill level. He has many options, and hopefully, with the proper care, Eklund will become the great forward he projects to be.
As we get closer to the start of the 2021-22 season, there are still many questions remaining with the Sharks. With the Pacific division as unpredictable as ever, anything is possible. However, with a few moves here and there and the correct prospect development, we could be seeing the Sharks back in the playoffs sooner than many expect. Even if things don’t go the team’s way next year, a stacked prospect pool is just around the corner in 2022. Regardless of if the Sharks sink or swim next year, signing Eklund shows that the team is beginning to take the necessary steps to bring competitiveness back to the locker room. Despite the uncertainty of the future, one thing is crystal clear.
William Eklund is officially a Shark.