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Quick Thoughts: Eklund, Merkley Impress in Sharks’ Split-Squad Games



Hope always springs eternal on the first days of training camp.

The San Jose Sharks opened their preseason with a split-squad 6-3 loss to Anaheim and a 4-2 victory over Vegas.

It’s not about the results, of course – it’s about players earning their place on the big club.

Assistant coach John Madden, helming the San Jose Sharks split squad in Anaheim, singled out –

He also praised 2020 second-rounder Tristen Robins.

As for Merkley, the 2018 first-rounder needs a strong preseason to maintain his stock after an up-and-down rookie tournament.

“That’s the best I’ve seen him play,” Madden offered. “I thought he made some real good skill plays, real heads-up plays. I thought he battled hard in his own zone. I know that he caught a couple of guys by surprise with some of the plays he made. I thought he ran the power play excellent. It was a real positive for him tonight.”

The Ducks’ contest wasn’t streamed, so hopefully, Merkley gets a look this Tuesday when the San Jose Sharks play the Kings at SAP Center.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights’ tilt was on TV, and I thought William Eklund looked fantastic. The 2021 lottery pick impressed me on both sides of the ice all night.

After a Sasha Chmelevski (55) neutral zone turnover, Chandler Stephenson (20) scoops up the puck. Eklund is a couple strides behind the speedy Stephenson. Stephenson cuts to the middle to fill the center lane, but Eklund (72), who hasn’t given up on the play, picks the Vegas pivot’s pocket.

I’ve been impressed by the 18-year-old’s defensive detail since the rookie tourney.

Granted, this was at the end of the game – I’m sure the Golden Knights were less than motivated, down a pair of goals with 18 seconds to go.

But look at Eklund, below the goal line, luring Gage Quinney (72) toward him. Also important: Eklund’s patience diverts Zach Whitecloud’s attention (2). Eklund then uncorks, all Vegas eyes on him, what appears to be a no-look, against-the-grain pass onto the awaiting stick of Lane Pederson (18) in the slot.

That wouldn’t be, by the way, Eklund’s first no-look pass last night:

“You can see his hockey IQ, his intelligence,” Boughner said. “There were four or five times I can remember, him making plays and understanding the scoreboard. Understanding the time of the game and momentum changes.

“He created an offense when it was there. He made some great plays on the power play.

“I also thought that defensively, he came back and worked real hard, stopped his feet. He’s got a great hockey IQ.”

Naturally, Bob Boughner’s praise, in a 4-2 win, wasn’t limited to Eklund:

Of course, a lone exemplary exhibition effort doesn’t an NHL player make. Both Merkley and Eklund have a lot to prove over the next couple weeks.

But last night appears to be a step in the right direction if they want to make the San Jose Sharks out of camp.

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