After finishing his ninth NHL game on Thursday night, William Eklund's time with the Sharks for the 2021-22 NHL season has come to an end.
The team confirmed Friday morning that Eklund indeed would be re-assigned to his Swedish Hockey League club, Djurgardens IF, as the Sharks save a year of the 19-year-old's rookie contract.
"This was one of the toughest decisions we have had to make," General manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "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, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates during training camp. Over his first nine NHL games, Eklund did not score a goal but still racked up four assists.
The Sharks clearly are making a long-term move with Eklund here, as sending him back to Sweden now ensures they still have three years left on his rookie contract when the 2022-23 season begins.
"Very good player, going to be an elite player in this league," Sharks captain Logan Couture said of Eklund after Thursday night's loss. "It's tough to play in this league at 18, 19, and he's shown that he can do it, so very impressive, it isn't easy what he's doing, he's playing top-six minutes and he's playing against the other team's top two lines every night. So nothing but credit to him, he's showed up and proven that he can play in the NHL."
Eklund will get a chance to earn more playing time in the SHL and should return to the Sharks next season.