Sometimes you just know a team is going to get a steal of a pick. Everyone that pays attention to the NHL Draft cannot stop raving about William Eklund and his season. One of the few players that continued to play through the pandemic and demonstrate his abilities, he’s been praised by almost every Twitter scout or draft blogger there is.
Despite all that praise and hype, he still might be selected out of the top-five on July 23 for some reason.
Colin Cudmore of Silver Seven Sens does a great job compiling all the projected mock drafts and has created an “expected range” any player will go in. With Eklund, it’s one of the most wildest ranges: from the 3rd overall pick, to the 12th. It might be the fact that he’s one of the oldest top prospects this year and teams are buying in on potential, but he’s been able to be one of the most important players in the SHL — a league full of grown men — at just 18 years old still.
With 22 sources of projected drafts, Eklund’s most likely destination will be the fifth overall pick and that is still behind controversial top picks like Owen Power and Brandt Clarke.
There’s always one forward that drops for one reason or another and the Wild were able to snatch Marco Rossi up at ninth, after he was projected to go as high as third or second overall in last year’s draft. I would bet a lot on Eklund being that player fan bases around the world are screaming about for their team in the top-five to draft and then they go draft a taller dude instead.
What Scouts Are Saying
Eklund is probably the player in this draft class that has come furthest in his development and is closest to be NHL ready. He has gone through a tough season with really high highs and really low lows. He has had Covid, which made him ineligible to play in the World Juniors and he also required surgery to his appendix but despite this, he has played very well in one of the best leagues in the world as an 18-year-old. He’s well-rounded with not a lot of flaws. He can skate well, shoot well, his vision and passing are very good. The question is if the high upside is there but with his development the last year or so, it isn’t something you could rule out.
Eklund was an important player on an SHL team as an 18-year-old — a rare feat for a first-year draft-eligible player — and played well for Sweden’s national team. He has good, not great, straightaway speed to go along with fantastic edgework. He shows tremendous elusiveness to evade pressure and create space with his skating. Eklund skates fast, but it’s his skating plus his compete that earned the trust of big minutes as he showed he could be responsible off the puck. He combines that with a high skill level, a very imaginative hockey IQ offensively and the ability to execute difficult plays at speed. His ability to play in the high-traffic areas and win battles, but also play on the perimeter and be a primary set-up guy, will make him a versatile NHL player. In a sentence, Eklund projects as an undersized first-line NHL winger with dynamic attributes.
William Eklund is a pretty special player. Enters the zone, finding the lane to get past the defender, fighting off the poke check.— Josh Bell (@JoshuaBell31) November 24, 2020
But then, shows his vision with the pass across, going through/past four defenders to its target for a great scoring chance. #2021NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/fsvmDXSF1Y
Eklund is the highest IQ player in this draft. He already understands coverages better than most NHL top six forwards. The Stockholm native seems to know what defensemen are going to do before they themselves make a decision. As a result he manages to get completely free around the slot, near the crease, behind the net, and in the circles more often than seems plausible. With the puck on his stick he puts his brain-power to use as well. He turns players inside out regularly on the cycle, not through outrageous moves, but by cutting back on himself at the very moments his marker least expects him to, leaving them out of position and with Eklund free to walk in towards goal.
When it comes to his shot the young Swede relies on an extremely quick release on both his snap-shot and wrister. He does not have the heaviest or most accurate shot, but with the positions he manages to get to almost every shift it is rare that when the puck comes to him he is not in a dangerous shot location. The result this season has been that he leads his team in goals. Now, his 18.9% shooting will almost certainly come down as the year goes on, but this high percentage is also driven by his shot locations.
However, there is certainly room for improvement in his shot selection and execution. He does not always catch his wristers clean, and as a result a higher percentage than you would like either hit skates and shins. Eklund also sometimes fails to lift his shots when he wants to. If he can get stronger, and in turn add more velocity to his shot, and be more consistent when he does shoot, he could certainly be a 30+ goal-scorer at the NHL level… with two-thirds of them coming on tap-ins, deflections and uncontested shots from the slot.
Eklund’s “skill” sometimes gets denigrated. The reason for this? Probably that he is not overly flashy. If Sidney Crosby is the “King of the Grinders” then William Eklund is one of the Princes. His style of play, combined with his high IQ, means that he rarely “needs” to pull a rabbit out of the hat and make a wonder-play. He gets space almost every shift with ease. In turn there is no need to try and deke a defensemen out of their jock. Eklund does have good hand-eye coordination though, and when he needs to can throw a feint or deke to get around a defenseman. He is also very good at tipping pucks in close as well as positioning his blade perfectly for re-directions.
Would He Fit In With The Wild?
Of course, especially given their lack of talent up front, Eklund would be a welcome addition to a team that just sorely needs offense. Kaprizov and Fiala can’t do it all on their own and Eklund projects to be a very solid top-six centerman for years to come.
Minnesota has that hypothetical potential in Marco Rossi as well, but adding another strong prospect down the middle would only bolster any opportunities to be within the breathing distance of a Stanley Cup.
Could The Wild Get Him?
No. As much as it pains me to say it, Eklund is destined to go to a very bad team. Even with a Rossi-esque dive, it’s still in the top-10 picks and with the Wild owning the 21st and 25th overall selections, it’s a far way off from being able to pick Eklund.
Even if they really want to trade up in the situation that the Swedish forward is dropping, it would cost a whole lot more than their two first picks and a mid-tier prospect to move into the top-10.
A Minnesota Relation
With his supreme agility and ability to lose his defenders in the offensive zone, in addition to his acute offensive awareness, it reminds me a lot of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. A sneaky attacker that can elude some of the more staunch defenders even if he is under six feet tall.
Bouchard played over 500 games for the Wild and during a time where they were finally able to feel some success after expansion. He even holds the Wild’s record for most assists in a season with 50, so I would say that it’s a pretty high bar to compare Eklund to, but also this comparison is just for fun and more about style anyways. Not setting a landmark of where they should end up, but just who they play similarly too.
2021 NHL Draft Board
- Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
- Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
- Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
- William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)