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Sharks Locker Room: Everybody’s Raving About Eklund, Vlasic a Hall of Famer?

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The San Jose Sharks are playing themselves out of the driver’s seat for the first-overall pick.

Winners of four of their last five, including a 2-0 shutout tonight of the Seattle Kraken, and with points in five of their last six, they currently have the second-best odds for the No. 1 pick.

For a San Jose system that desperately needs to add elite talent, that’s not great.

And just looking at the box score, goals by veterans Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jan Rutta don’t really do much for their trade value or for the future of the Sharks.

Of course, there are other ways to look at a win like this.

For one, it’s great to see veterans like Vlasic and Rutta, both who have had outstanding careers, continue to play at a high level.

If you have any appreciation for the underdog, it’s nice to see someone, considered old for his field, succeed.

“Who would have thought?” the 36-year-old Vlasic quipped, clearly aware of what those on the outside (including yours truly) have said or written about him. “I can still play this game.”

And of course, there are ways where this victory was good for the future of the Sharks, if you look beyond who scored, starting with William Eklund’s impressive debut as an NHL center.

It’s just one game, but Eklund was impressive at both ends of the ice as a center.

“Eklund at center looking good,” an NHL scout from outside the San Jose Sharks organization texted me.

“I don’t really think it matters what position you put him in, he just plays with such confidence right now and swagger. He’s so elusive and smart, just liked his game in all three zones,” head coach David Quinn said. “He’s had experience playing center, just not at this level here. To do it seamlessly, certainly talks about the type of player he is.”

Again, it’s just one game, but going from wing to center, or at least showing NHL-caliber versatility, makes the 2021 seventh-overall pick, originally seen as a center by then-director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr., that much more valuable a piece of the Sharks’ future.

And finally, Mackenzie Blackwood, who turned away 32 shots for his first-ever Sharks shutout and enjoyed his first shutout since Dec. 8, 2021.

Blackwood has been a revelation this season in San Jose, and the better he plays, the brighter the Sharks’ future looks. After he and Kaapo Kahkonen, San Jose’s goaltending pipeline is not exactly exciting.

Eetu Makiniemi, Magnus Chrona, and Georgi Romanov have all been up-and-down for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda, posting a cumulative sub-.895 Save %. The only drafted goaltending prospect still in the system, Mason Beaupit, is toiling in the BCHL. At the moment, they don’t have any NHL-caliber goaltending behind Blackwood and Kahkonen.

So Blackwood, just 27, and not that long ago considered the future in net for Team Canada, may very well be the future in net for the next competitive Sharks team.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Vlasic, on Eklund this season:

Confident with the puck. Very skilled. Sees the ice well I thought he played well tonight, holding onto pucks. I think he did a pretty good job playing center for his first game. Tons of skill.

Vlasic, on his game recently:

Played well. Like I said, I’ve been skating, making plays. Who would have thought? I can still play this game.

William Eklund

Eklund, on his zone entry that led to the Vlasic goal:

I just [saw the] opening there in the middle and they weren’t really going at me. It was a hooking too, by the way. Then we had a great entry and the goal and I was just happy with that.

Mackenzie Blackwood

Blackwood, on getting the shutout:

It can be done. (laughs) It was good. Boys played hard.

Blackwood, on San Jose Sharks doing a better job of closing out games now:

I think it’s a mentality too. I think we have confidence now that we can close the game out, whereas, at the start of the year, we were gripping the sticks a little too tight, making panic plays.

Blackwood, on Seattle Kraken:

Yeah, they shoot a lot of pucks. So you don’t want to be caught deep in your net. They’re good at shooting pucks [from] points, traffic, so you got to do a good job of trying to find the lanes and trying to play big on tips and stuff like that.

It’s a little bit different. There’s a lot of teams that play a lot of east-west and seams, so drives you deeper into the net, but teams like this, you want to [be in front].

David Quinn

Quinn, on Eklund at center:

I liked a lot of his game, as we’ve talked about. He’s a hockey player. I don’t really think it matters what position you put him in, he just plays with such confidence right now and swagger. He’s so elusive and smart, just liked his game in all three zones.

He’s had experience playing center, just not at this level here. To do it seamlessly, certainly talks about the type of player he is.

This challenge of playing center here in the National Hockey League, he didn’t blink an eye, he was eager to do it. I thought he played really well.

Quinn, on Blackwood’s play now as opposed to December:

I think he’s been great all year. I really do. I think he’s one of the top goalies in the league. Just a phenomenal teammate too.

This guy looks like King Kong in the net. He’s so athletic. He’s poised and he’s a hell of a teammate.

Quinn, on Vlasic coming back with a chip on his shoulder after his leave of absence:

He’s played his best hockey of the year the last few weeks.

He’s a prideful guy and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. The leave of absence did him good. He had some personal stuff he had to iron out. And he came back a new man.

Quinn, on Shakir Mukhamadullin’s second NHL game:

I thought again, he plays with confidence. Gets the puck, has poise, he holds it, makes good decisions. His intentions are good defensively. Just really liked what I saw again tonight.

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