All aboard the William Eklund hype train!
The San Jose Sharks’ 2021 first-round draft pick notched two assists in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings last night, making three assists for the 18-year-old in two preseason tilts. Of note, all of Eklund’s production has been on the man advantage.
That would suggest Eklund is a specialist, but from what I’ve seen, that hasn’t been the case so far. In my observation, the youngster has been a conscientious backchecker and an effective forechecker at 5-on-5. He’s also engaging in the dirty areas.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he doesn’t pull up in traffic,” Bob Boughner said. “He doesn’t bail on the wall when he knows he’s gonna get hit. He’ll take a hit to make a play.”
There’s reason to believe, however, that Eklund could be just what Boughner ordered for the power play.
On Monday, Boughner noted that Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc, Tomas Hertl, and Nick Bonino have a good chance on starting the season as the net front or high slot/bumper players on the power play. That leaves open spots along the flanks, on the wall of a PP. That’s where a Joe Thornton made a living for years.
“We’re just looking for that right mix of who’s going to play on the flank,” Boughner said. “[Alexander] Barabanov is one of the guys that we have circled. But who’s going to play on those other flanks, it’s going to be a bit of an experiment through preseason.”
At least in regards to Eklund, the experiment is working. The 18-year-old’s command of the half wall on the man advantage has been nothing short of impressive. In a playmaking position, he’s been consistently making plays.
“He’s making some great decisions with the puck,” Boughner said. “I think it’s his hockey instincts. I think it’s his IQ.
“Certain players just have that ability that you can’t really teach. It’s just a patience and a vision thing.”
This was Eklund’s second assist:
Eklund’s teammates have noticed his deceptiveness. Mario Ferraro pointed out: “I’ve seen him last couple games, Eks on the power play, he does a really good job faking passes and making no-look passes. He’s just a very smart player.
“He sees guys [on] the ice without actually having to turn his head and see him. It’s like he has eyes in the back of his head. He’s gifted like that, he can be deceptive, make you think he’s gonna make a play that way and then pass it the other way.”
Cold shower alert: Eklund has flashed against relatively-weak exhibition offerings from the Vegas Golden Knights and the Kings. The beginning of preseason is just that way.
— TEAL TOWN USA – A San Jose Sharks Podcast (@TEALTOWNUSA) September 27, 2021
Boughner himself is trying to temper expectations for his wunderkind: “I don’t wanna get too excited too early, but the future’s very, very bright for him.”
That said, he didn’t rule out the teenager starting the season with the San Jose Sharks: “We’re pretty open-minded when we said these young guys are gonna get opportunities.”
We’ll see if Eklund can continue to raise his game as the competition spikes. But from all appearances, he’s getting more and more comfortable with everything, from the NHL’s faster pace to North America’s smaller ice.
“Yeah, I think so,” Eklund said. “It’s, as I said, trying to improve the small details.”
Things started getting chippy in the final frame, but neither the San Jose Sharks nor Eklund backed down.
After Eklund took a stab at a Garret Sparks-covered puck, Blake Lizotte went after the kid. Hertl, however, took exception, tearing after Lizotte. Hertl and Austin Strand went to box with coincidental roughing minors.
Shortly thereafter, bodies flying in the neutral zone, Eklund and Aiden Dudas got into it. Big Jacob Doty stepped in, but Ferraro flew in to fight Doty.
Doty knocks down Eklund, last second you see Ferraro charging Doty, Ferraro and Doty five for fighting pic.twitter.com/CB3jIGHDmP
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) September 29, 2021
That was actually Ferraro’s first-ever NHL fight.
“He’s got 30 or 40 pounds on me,” laughed the 185-pound Ferraro, of his bout with the 220-pound Doty.
Has the 18-year-old become the locker room little brother?
“I don’t know about that,” Eklund smiled. “But I feel really involved. All the guys are taking good care of me. I’m just happy.”
“That’s something that we can all do as a team, we got to be a wolf pack out there,” Ferraro said. “We gotta stand up for each other, that’s what the game of hockey is about, it’s playing for each other out there.”
Who Else Impressed?
Eklund, of course, isn’t the only San Jose Sharks prospect competing for an NHL role. Per Boughner:
“I like [Santeri] Hatakka’s game again tonight. I thought over the last couple of games, I think he’s getting more aggressive. I think he’s jumping up in the play a little more. Keeping pucks alive down the wall.
“I like [Jasper] Weatherby’s game tonight again, just solid. There’s a lot of little things that sometimes don’t show up on the scoresheet. I thought his game was good tonight.
“I thought Sasha [Chmelevski] battled hard and he had a few chances.”
If you’re reading between the lines, there wasn’t any mention of Joachim Blichfeld, Noah Gregor, or Ryan Merkley.
I had more thoughts about all the prospects who played last night here:
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