The Sharks made a decision for the long term with rookie William Eklund on Friday, re-assigning him to his Swedish club in order to preserve a year on his entry contract. Eklund was disappointed, but fellow Sharks rookie Jonathan Dahlen explained to reporters Saturday morning how the 19-year-old will be able to improve when he gets back on the ice with the Swedish Hockey League's Djurgardens.
"A lot, he's going to have less games, more time to work out, he's going to get stronger and more ready that way and he's going to get a lot of ice time and play a lot in important situations," Dahlen said of Eklund. "And it's also always a great experience to be in the bottom fighting to turn something around as Djurgardens is right now, so that's also going to be good experience for him. Hopefully they can turn it around and go to the playoffs too, and I think he's going to get a lot of experience and a lot of time to work out."
The SHL schedule consists of just 52 games compared to the NHL's 82, and Eklund's Djurgardens squad already has 17 contests under its belt this season.
As Dahlen mentioned, Eklund will have the chance to try and reverse fortunes for his former club. Djurgardens ranks 13th of 14 SHL teams with 15 points on the season.
Eklund looked like he could be here to stay in his first NHL training camp, earning rave reviews from teammates and coaches. Through his first nine games, Eklund racked up four assists but was not able to score his first NHL goal. The rookie spoke to local media Friday after the decision was made.
"I think I did what I could to stay here, and I just tried to do my best every day, but of course, rules are rules," Eklund said.
The rookie looked and sounded despondent about leaving San Jose, but several of his veteran teammates delivered words of encouragement through the Sharks' social channels Friday.
"He played great for us, good luck," Captain Logan Couture said. "He's going to do well when he gets over there. He'll do well in the world juniors. It will be good for him to go dominate a league and continue to play his game, I thought his game was trending in a good direction when he was here. We'll see him soon."
"It's not easy, it's for sure tough for him. He is really sad because he was fighting for a spot," Alternate captain Tomas Hertl said. "Just be ready. We know you will be an elite player. You will play many years in this league. You have to just keep working on your game, just get stronger and play best you can next year and you will be top player next year."
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson's statement about re-assigning Eklund echoed the sentiments of his two veteran leaders.
"This was one of the toughest decisions we have had to make," said Wilson. "William's tremendous 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."
Eklund will have three years remaining on his rookie contract when he likely returns to the Sharks lineup next season.