“So far it feels good, but I think we all know that once the puck drops on October 16th, it’s going to be a little bit different than it is now.”
The 2021 first-round pick impressed once again last night, notching an assist and controlling play at times at five-on-five. The winger currently leads the San Jose Sharks with five points and is tied for the NHL preseason lead with five assists. Eklund was also the first name out of a couple scouts’ mouths, when I asked them who stood out for San Jose.
“He’s a skill player,” Karlsson noted. “Once you give him time and space, you can tell that he’s got a good head on him, he can find good areas out there.”
Tomas Hertl actually evoked the two-time Norris Trophy winner when talking about the 18-year-old: “He’s one of those guys from Sweden, I think, he has that ability to look left — like Erik — and pass right.”
But back to Karlsson’s original point: There’s no comparison between the pace of the preseason and the regular season.
So let’s not build that Eklund statue outside SAP Center just yet.
The preseason is littered with would-be stars who just couldn’t cut it when competition ratcheted up another level.
Just in recent San Jose Sharks history: Last year, Noah Gregor was handed the third-line center job to start the regular season. In 2018-19, both Antti Suomela and Rourke Chartier notched five points apiece in five exhibition games.
None of these players are currently in the NHL.
Fans of an older vintage might remember Steve Bernier potting a 2006 preseason hat trick or Jeff Jillson hammering in goals during the lead-up to the 2002-03 campaign, to name a couple San Jose Sharks’ first-round picks who didn’t quite live up to their billing.
It’s not to say that Eklund will disappoint this season – and make no mistake, he deserves to break camp with this team – but we won’t really know what he’s got for another couple weeks yet.
Merkley, Chmelevski Sent Down
Center-winger Sasha Chmelevski was sent down today, further solidifying Eklund’s place in the San Jose Sharks’ opening night line-up. There are 17 forwards remaining at training camp:
• Rudolfs Balcers
• Alexander Barabanov
• Nick Bonino
• Andrew Cogliano
• Logan Couture
• Jonathan Dahlen
• William Eklund
• Dylan Gambrell
• Tomas Hertl
• Evander Kane
• Kevin Labanc
• Timo Meier
• Matt Nieto
• Lane Pederson
• Adam Raska
• Jeffrey Viel
• Jasper Weatherby
Bob Boughner has suggested that the San Jose Sharks will carry 14 forwards on their 23-man roster to start the season. Rudolfs Balcers, Alexander Barabanov, Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Matt Nieto should be safe – that’s nine forwards. Assuming Evander Kane, currently under investigation for sexual assault, domestic battery, and COVID protocol violations, doesn’t count against the final roster, that means Eklund, Jonathan Dahlen, Dylan Gambrell, Lane Pederson, Adam Raska, Jeffrey Viel, and Jasper Weatherby are vying for five spots.
Without question, Eklund has been the best of this bunch this pre-season. In other words, he’s not going anywhere.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this preseason has been the emergence of 2020 seventh-round pick Adam Raska. While the San Jose Sharks coaching staff has been complimentary of Dahlen, Gambrell, Pederson, Viel, and Weatherby throughout camp, there isn’t a “pest” quite like Raska anywhere else in the San Jose Sharks’ organization.
“A guy that just plays within himself every night and knows how he needs to play to have success. You look around our division, our conference, every team’s got some grit and sandpaper,” Boughner said of Raska last night. “We didn’t have it consistently [last year]. I like his game five-on-five, I think that he’s effective player and he’s good on the wall.
“He does supply that identity to that bottom part of our line-up.”
Meanwhile, 2018 first-rounder Ryan Merkley’s NHL debut will have to wait. There are nine defensemen left at camp:
• Brent Burns
• Mario Ferraro
• Santeri Hatakka
• Erik Karlsson
• Nikolai Knyzhov
• Nicolas Meloche
• Jacob Middleton
• Radim Simek
• Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Nikolai Knyzhov, who’s yet to appear at training camp, might start the season on IR. In that case, 20-year-old Santeri Hatakka is competing with AHL veterans Jake Middleton and Nicolas Meloche for two spots.
According to Karlsson though, Merkley shouldn’t be discouraged.
“Merks has taken a big step forward, you can really tell. He’s one of those guys that you know is highly-skilled,” Karlsson said last night. “I think that he’s done a good job, trying to become the player that he’s going to be whenever he does enter the league.”
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