The San Jose Sharks have decided not to keep William Eklund, the 1st Round, 7th Overall Pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, on the main roster and send him back to the Swedish Hockey League per team sources. Eklund, an overwhelming fan favorite, was visibly disappointed with the team's decision and fans took to social media to share the same sentiment.
The Sharks had previously stated that Eklund was under an evaluation period and that the decision to keep him on the main roster or send him back for "further development" to Djurgårdens would be made after he played 9 games for San Jose. On Friday afternoon, the Sharks have decided Eklund didn't make the cut.
In a statement released by General Manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks resembled an employer who decided to go in a different direction in the hiring process:
This is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make. William's termendous skill and vision have been evident since his participation in our rookie tournament in September. In his nine NHL games as a teenager, he has shown that he is going to be a special player in this league but ultimately, we feel it is in the best interest of his long-term development to return to Sweden and continue to work on becoming the dominant player we know he can be.
Most San Jose Sharks fans have vocalized their disapproval of the transaction, citing that Eklund not only brings excitement to the fans but he also adds a competitive element to the rest of the Sharks' veterans. Eklund's contributions could be seen early on in the season with 4 points in his first 4 games, each tallied per game as an assist on the power play. Also, it is fair to state the obvious: with reports of scandals, abuse, locker room disputes, trades, and contract extensions that may not happen... Eklund has been one of the few bright spots for the club this offseason, preseason, and throughout the first month of the regular season.
Eklund was projected to be a first-round selection by multiple prospect outlets and was widely expected to be taken within the first 5 picks. To Sharks Territory's surprise and delight, Eklund "dropped" to 7th overall via the selection by San Jose. In the Arizona Rookie Faceoff Tournament, Eklund showcased his speed, hand-eye coordination, vision, skating, and deke abilities. In the preseason, Eklund seamlessly fit in with the Veterans and his special teams contributions with his precision passing showed early on before the show became official in October when he helped set up 4 power play goals.
Despite the magic that Eklund sparked in San Jose, the Sharks still felt it was necessary to send him back overseas and perhaps they're right. Taking a look at his totals for his first 9 career NHL games, Eklund finished with the following stats:
Total points: 4 (4 assists, 0 goals)
Plus- Minus: -3
Total Shots Attempted: 15
Total Shots on Goal: 8
Faceoff Win Percentage: 37.5% (3 out of 5)
Expected Goals For Per Game: 3.4
Expected Goals Against Per Game: 4.1
Goals Created Per Game: 0.12
Shots per 60 mins at Even Strength: 0.6
(stats via Hockey-Reference)
Eklund also was visibly underwhelming when it came to the physicality of the game. Eklund was beginning to become an "easy target" for the bigger skaters to lay the body on, however, it did not mean he was necessarily easy to hit.
The Sharks wanting to protect their best asset, and potentially future leader of the team, while placing him in a setting where he can evolve his superstar skills is logical. Why couldn't he do so with the Barracuda is questionable. But the biggest shocker to the fan base is that the Sharks have declared that Eklund will be playing hockey in Sweden for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. Sharks fans, who already are not showing up to home games, will have to wait until next year to see the young star play again. Fans will also have to wait until next year to celebrate his first career NHL goal, which arguably was a huge incentive to stay glued to the screen during gameplay when the Sharks seemed like they forgot how to play hockey.
Good choice or not, removing Eklund from the main roster has taken the wind out of the sails for most fans who have been deprived of excitement or energy from the Sharks for the past two years. On the flip side, the Sharks have debuted 10 rookies this season and second-generation skater Jonathan Dahlen has some of us in Sharks Territory name-dropping 'Calder' in our conversations. With 10 games played in the 82 game schedule, there is still plenty of 'firsts' to witness from young Sharks players and one rookie certainly doesn't supersede the entire roster. Still, some fans of Eklund who hoped to watch him develop in teal may feel like the games are a bit empty without him on the ice. Hopefully, the Sharks can continue to produce on the power play and win games without Eklund in the lineup, otherwise, the move may seem like San Jose is starting to revert to its rebuild narrative after declaring the season was a 'reset'.