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Preview/Lines #47: Quinn Gives 2 Reasons for Eklund Line Change

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

LOS ANGELES – “This isn’t anybody who’s not happy with his play.”

That’s how San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn explained dropping William Eklund from the top-six today.

Of course, Eklund hasn’t exactly been on fire. Since Christmas, the 21-year-old winger has just two assists in his last 12 games. Before that, he had been surging, with three goals and five assists in 10 contests going into the break.

But Quinn is actually hoping that a move to the third line with Nico Sturm and Luke Kunin could actually spark some offense.

He gave two primary reasons for the change: “We’ve asked an awful lot out of Eky. He’s been on the top-two lines all year. He’s seen everybody’s top pairings from a defensive standpoint, from a line standpoint. He still has done a lot of good things.

“I just think for him, not having to face the other team’s top-two lines and top pairings, put him on that other line will maybe free him up a little bit.”

It’s also worth noting that a drop from the second line, where Eklund started on Saturday next to a returning Logan Couture, to the third, it’s a far cry from going from say the first line to the fourth.

And actually, Sturm played more even strength minutes than Couture on Saturday, 13:54 to 12:05. Meanwhile, first-line center Tomas Hertl gobbled up 20:00 of ES time and 4C Ryan Carpenter played 9:23.

Last season, Hertl averaged 16:01, Couture 13:46, and Sturm 12:05 ES ATOI, a rough indication of where the centermen ranked on the San Jose Sharks’ depth chart, 1C through 3C.

So looking at it that way, it’s a demotion – but it’s not that dramatic a demotion. Sturm is still going to play plenty, and while Sturm and Kunin aren’t natural finishers, Eklund will still get plenty of ice-time to show why he should get put back up with say a Hertl.

Also, Eklund was not yanked from the power play, and in fact, is still on the top unit. If he was off the power play, that would be a surer sign that Quinn was unhappy with his game.

“There’s some good things in his game,” Quinn stressed twice.

As recently as last week, when Eklund hit a crossbar in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the San Jose Sharks bench boss made it a point to talk about the other areas of the game where Eklund has improved recently.

Sharks Locker Room: Eklund’s Frustration Palpable, Quinn on Scratching Duclair

But if you’re in the top-six, you gotta produce, right? Those are the facts of life in the NHL.

That leads to Quinn’s top reason for dropping Eklund – it’s more about promoting Anthony Duclair, who actually started Saturday on the fourth line, than demoting the youngster.

“No. 1, I think Duke had a good first half of the game,” Quinn noted, referring to the fact that he actually boosted Duclair and dropped Eklund in the middle of the 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks. “We had a long conversation the day before that and there was a big uptick in his play.”

Preview/Lines #46: Duclair Wants To Show Sharks His ‘Best Hockey’ Yet

Quinn is striking a delicate balance – you want to give your youngsters plenty of ice-time to develop – but you want to also reward your veterans, when they play well, with ice-time. It’s tough to keep a last-place team engaged, and that’s one way to do so, to give ice-time based more on merit than say because Eklund was the seventh-overall pick of a recent Draft. There are only so many top-six wing spots to go around.

Fabian Zetterlund has certainly solidified one of them with his breakout campaign. Mike Hoffman, unpopular as he may be with the fanbase, has a three-straight games assist streak going. Alexander Barabanov hasn’t been nearly as productive as Hoffman, but he’s been more dangerous than Eklund recently. And they’re clearly trying to get the talented Duclair going, a reward for a game well-played and in advance of the Mar. 8 Trade Deadline.

And once again, Eklund should get plenty of ice-time in the top-nine and No. 1 power play group.

It’s more on him to make something out of it if he wants to be back on the first line.

“Here we are, that point in the season where everyone gets a little tired,” Quinn said. “Everyone’s looking for the break. It’s usually hump time for these younger players.”

San Jose Sharks (11-31-4)

Kaapo Kahkonen will start, meaning Mackenzie Blackwood is likely to go tomorrow against the New York Rangers.

Here’s what I saw today at morning skate:

Hoffman-Hertl-Zetterlund
Barabanov-Couture-Duclair
Eklund-Sturm-Kunin
Zadina-Carpenter-Bailey

Vlasic-Ferraro
Thrun-Rutta
Okhotiuk-Burroughs

Los Angeles Kings (22-13-8)

Where to Watch

Puck drop between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings is 7:30 PM PT at Crypto.com Arena. Watch it live on NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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