The Swedish winger could be the top forward taken this summer.
As the Nashville Predators’ season continues to slide backward and a top-five pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft seems more likely by the day, the organization will have many options to juggle when it comes to their selection. Last time out, I detailed Swedish defender Simon Edvinsson.
This time, I’ll explore an option at forward, a player rising quickly up public opinion rankings—William Eklund.
William Eklund – F
Djurgårdens IF [SHL] — 18 — Haninge, Sweden
An early birthday for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Eklund has been a star for Djurgårdens playing against top professional competition. In 31 games, Eklund’s 18 points rank sixth on the team—just ahead of teammate and top-ten 2020 pick Alexander Holtz. He’s the top U19 scorer in the entire SHL, ahead of Holtz and Lucas Raymond, and his 0.4643 primary points per game played are best among all U20 skaters in the SHL while he averages just over 15 minutes of ice time each night.
Historically, Eklund’s 0.58 points per game U19 season are similar to those of Samuel Fagemo (0.60 in 2018-19), Jakub Vrana (0.55 in 2014-15), and Nicklas Bäckström (0.57 in 2005-06).
Eklund’s game is centered around his puck possession skills, but—somewhat similar to Dawson Mercer—he may not always get full marks for how intelligent he is on-ice. Whether setting up a play or shooting, Eklund is able to register and react to nearly every moving part around him.
Take this shift above as an example. Eklund (#72, blue) plays a puck support role on the near side before Linköping starts a sloppy breakout up ice. Eklund reads the giveaway well, finding open ice to receive a pass quickly. As he enters the zone, he does three smart things simultaneously: moves the puck into his shooting wheelhouse, sets his stance mid-stride for a powerful shot, and recognizes both potential passing options are compromised, firing off with an effective release.
On this shift, Eklund maintains the cycle down behind the net, using his quick edge work and excellent puck control to spin off a defender. While he doesn’t create tons of obvious separation, he uses his split second of freedom to pull two defenders near him before attempting a no-look pass to a nice scoring area.
Eklund loves to dazzle with the puck on his stick, and he couldn’t be more effective at drawing defenders off his teammates to open up shooting and passing lanes. On this shift, Eklund comes from behind the net and maintains his vision on the slot as all four defenders collapse around him. He gets off a high-danger shot attempt and then, seconds later, shows off his quick passing prowess for an easy primary assist.
This play maybe my favorite of Eklund’s entire season. He’s got an NHL-ready mind when it comes to mapping out multiple layers of teammates and opponents in the offensive zone. Even better: He capitalizes on small margins with quick and creative puck touches like this between-the-legs tap to his teammates.
A noticeable knock on Eklund’s game is his skating. It won’t hold him back entirely at the NHL level, but he may not be able to beat defenders with it. The good news is that’s not what he’s molded his game around. He will, however, need to work on some small skating mechanics: under-torso stride recovery, knee bend (at times), and crossover acceleration—as you’ll notice on the failed zone exit above.
When defenders attack zone entries smartly, Eklund’s skill can be muted without speed. While I like his quick hands to evade the opponent on this odd-man rush, he’ll be forced into quicker decisions at higher levels.
Here’s another example of Eklund stickhandling himself into a low-danger area of the offensive zone. When he learns to make quicker passes or decisions closer to the blue line, he’ll continue to open up playmaking areas for teammates in the NHL. And don’t ignore his backcheck to force a turnover.
Those playmaking areas won’t always be for his teammates to feast in too. Eklund excels at moving with the play and capitalizing on his own intelligence. In the shift above, he uses those notable hands and edge control to push off the defender and pass off to his teammate before carving into the slot and tapping home a beautiful goal.
Expected Pick Range
Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from different public sources. You can read about his methodology here and track the compiled rankings here.
Eklund’s Expected Pick Range: #3 to #12 — 1st Round
Last summer, suggesting Eklund could go first overall likely would have been mocked. Nowadays, I’m still not sure it’s likely, but he’s forced an argument about who the best forward in the draft class is (as EP Rinkside recently broke down).
With how good his draft year season is going, Eklund won’t go without hearing his name before the end of the top-ten when the 2021 NHL Entry Draft finally arrives.