Three reasons why the Sharks need to keep William Eklund in San Jose

Three reasons why the Sharks need to keep William Eklund in San Jose

SAN JOSE – It was only six words. But they spoke volumes about where William Eklund’s confidence is at right now.

“I feel like I belong here,” Eklund said Thursday morning before the Sharks’ game against the St. Louis Blues.

Eklund, of course, was referring to the NHL. He played his ninth game with the Sharks on Thursday night, going without a point in San Jose’s 5-3 loss to the Blues, and now general manager Doug Wilson has a decision to make (if he hasn’t made it already).

Keep Eklund around and let him play his 10th game Saturday against New Jersey, thereby burning the first year of his entry-level contract. Or, send him back to play with Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League and delay the start of his three-year deal.

The Sharks can let Eklund, 19, continue to adjust to North American professional hockey and work through the inevitable adversity or return him to Sweden to allow him to develop – both physically and mentally – at a more gradual pace.

There’s also a financial aspect to the decision as well. If Eklund sticks around and progresses the way he is projected to progress, then the Sharks are likely going to have to pay him big bucks once his entry-level deal expires after the 2023-2024 season.

If they send him back to Sweden, they can delay taking on that potential monster cap hit until 2025.

But really, with where the Sharks are at right now, they only have one choice.

Keep Eklund right where he is – in San Jose.

Here are three reasons why the Sharks should hold onto Eklund.

THEY’LL NEED HIM: Eklund has been in a top-six forward role with the Sharks since the start of training camp. That speaks to not only how much talent Eklund possesses, but also to perhaps the lack of high-end playmakers the Sharks have elsewhere in their forward group – particularly with the absence of Evander Kane.

Now, Timo Meier is off to the best start in his career, and Kevin Labanc is showing signs of becoming a more complete player. Both are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol right now but will probably be back within the next couple of weeks. Logan Couture and Jonathan Dahlen are a formidable one-two punch on the top line and Tomas Hertl can be dominant on any given night.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 4: San Jose Sharks’ William Eklund (72) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

But beyond those players, the Sharks have more two-way forwards than high-end skilled playmakers. Eklund, with three of his four assists coming on the power play, can complement those other players.

Is Kane coming back to the Sharks? Well, it can’t be completely ruled out.

But, if Kane does not come back, it would help to have another skilled player like Eklund who can help generate offense, particularly on the power play.

“He makes some high-end plays,” Sharks assistant coach John MacLean said. “He’s a talented, talented young man and he is going to have a long career in the NHL. I think the San Jose Sharks organization is excited about seeing what’s to come.”

THEY’RE COMPETITVE: If the Sharks were still in their self-described ‘reset,’ then the decision would be easy – send Eklund back to Sweden. But, they’ve shown that if they play a certain brand of hockey, they can be competitive with most teams.

Just as important, the Sharks believe they can be competitive with most teams.

The Sharks are 6-4-0 after Thursday’s loss. Two of those wins came with a lineup that’s been decimated by COVID-related absences, including four of their six regular defensemen.

At this point, it seems like it would be a tough message for management to deliver to the Sharks players – particularly the veterans who have gone through the lean times — if they send Eklund back. It would almost be like they’re not willing to give the team the best chance to win games.

And it says here that the Sharks have a better chance of winning games with Eklund in the lineup than they do without him in the lineup.

“Very good player, going to be an elite player in this league,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said Thursday night of Eklund. “It’s tough to play in this league at 18 or 19. He’s showing that he can do it, so, very impressive. It isn’t easy what he’s doing. He’s playing top-six minutes. He’s playing against the other team’s top two lines every night.

“Nothing but credit to him. He showed up and has proven that he can play in the NHL.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 4: San Jose Sharks’ William Eklund (72) skates on the ice during warm ups before their game against the St. Louis Blues at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

THEY STILL HAVE OPTIONS: The Sharks won’t sit Eklund for a handful of games in a row if he hits a wall at some point in the season. They have the option of sending him to the Barracuda if he faces serious adversity, which all young players tend to come across over an 82-game grind.

With their AHL affiliate inside the same building, the Sharks can easily send Eklund to the Barracuda for a spell should he need to regain some of his confidence. Isn’t that part of the reason why the Sharks relocated their AHL team to San Jose in the first place?

Now, the AHL can get a little rough, with some antics going in games that just wouldn’t fly in the NHL. But as long as the Sharks provide some protection for Eklund, a short stint with the Barracuda wouldn’t be the worst thing.

“I’m excited to see this guy’s whole career,” MacLean said. “I’m excited to see this kid’s career because he’s a very creative young player. You see different Swedish players come over that have his creativity, and usually, they have special careers.

“So that’s all I hope for this kid because he is a special player and I hope he has a special career, as well.”

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