The Sharks already were heavily invested in a Swedish defenseman. And after the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday night, they've put many of their remaining eggs in the basket of his young countryman.
Erik Karlsson might be the Sharks' most important player for the next handful of seasons. But they're surely hoping it won't take too long for William Eklund to vie for that title after they selected him with the No. 7 overall pick.
Eklund, 18, was just starting grade school when Karlsson, 31, made his NHL debut back in 2009. But when you're a hockey player growing up in Sweden, there are few athletes -- if any -- who are more popular than the two-time Norris Trophy winner, and Eklund has been following his career ever since.
Eklund met with Sharks media via videoconference shortly after being drafted by San Jose on Friday night. Physically, the talented forward was at home back in Sweden, but the digital environment was lacking in Swedish representation. So, naturally, a familiar face jumped on the call.
As Karlsson's face appeared on the screen, a big smile appeared on Eklund's.
The two Swedes immediately broke into a conversation using their native language. The only English words spoken were "training camp" and "development camp," so the vast majority of their discussion was incomprehensible to most of those who could hear it. But safe to say, Eklund was welcomed to the NHL by one of his biggest heroes.
It remains to be seen when Eklund actually will make it to the NHL, but there's reason to believe it could be in the not-too-distant future. Though just a teenager playing against adults in Sweden's top professional league, Eklund's 11 goals and 23 points in 40 games last season were the fifth-best numbers ever posted by a first-year draft-eligible player in the SHL. His impressive play in that league suggests he could begin contributing to San Jose's big club before long.
Eklund revealed that his goal is to realize his dream of making his NHL debut this coming season, but clarified that there are still discussions to be had with San Jose regarding where he will next play and for whom, whether that be another season with Djurgarden in the SHL, the Barracuda in the AHL or somewhere else. But in listening to the Sharks' brass, it is abundantly clear they got the player they wanted, and that they believe they landed a future star.
"He's a coach's dream," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson described.
"We were very happy, we had him second overall on our list behind [No. 2 overall pick Matthew Beniers], so to get that at seven I think was huge for this organization," Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. said. "William is a phenomenal kid. He's a captain type, he's a leader. I'm over the moon that we were able to pick him up. He's going to be a phenomenal San Jose Shark."
"He's very mature," Wilson Jr. added. "He's got speed, he's got possession. Puck protection, pursuit ... he's got everything we look for in our forwards. He's a very special person. He fits great with our culture. What he did at that level is pretty impressive. ... I can't say enough about him. I'm very excited he's a San Jose Shark."
Wilson Jr. explained that the Sharks view Eklund as both a centerman and as being on the same timeline as the other top forward prospects in San Jose's system. He confirmed that Eklund will attend the Sharks' development camp, when he'll get a chance to play alongside several members of that group.
From there, we'll see what direction Eklund goes in. But his arrow -- and also now that of the Sharks -- is pointing up.