The Sharks reassigned William Eklund to Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League on Friday, a decision that wasn't popular with the fan base and even made the 2021 first-round draft pick emotional when he spoke to reporters.
By making the move now, the Sharks preserved a year on Eklund's rookie contract after the 19-year-old played in nine games this season. Playing in a 10th game would have triggered the first year of the No. 7 overall draft pick's rookie deal.
Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. spoke to The Athletic's Kevin Kurz on Saturday about why the team sent Eklund back to Sweden.
“I would say even strength, both watching it and the underlying metrics said that an 82-game season might have been a little much for him at that age,” Wilson Jr. told Kurz. “And I think that’s the biggest thing -- even-strength play, consistency through 82 games is a big thing, but honestly, he would have had to do a lot to have stayed for the full season because historically we try and have our players develop as long as possible so they’re in spots to succeed when they actually do come here.”
Eklund was 18 when training camp started and he was so impressive during camp and the preseason that he forced his way onto the Sharks' opening night roster a few months after being drafted. In nine regular-season games, he had four assists, three of which came on the power play. He didn't score any goals and was a minus-3 while averaging 14:09 minutes of ice time per game.
“I think at the end of the day when you draft that high, you’re looking for difference-makers, you’re not looking for contributors," Wilson Jr. told Kurz. "I just think it would have been a tough conversation at the end of the season (if) we look back on it and William Eklund has seven goals and is a power-play specialist. I don’t think that would have been right for the kid, and I don’t think that would have been right for the Sharks. We just want to keep him on the same plan we’ve always had, which is player development and what’s best for William.”
Eklund's agent Todd Diamond spoke to San Jose Hockey Now's Sheng Peng on Saturday and expressed disappointment with the Sharks not keeping his client with the team.
“We believe William is among the top four to six wingers on the NHL club,” Diamond told Peng.
The decision has been made, and both sides must move forward. The Sharks have high expectations for Eklund, and they are hopeful that he will use the time with Djurgarden to develop into a franchise cornerstone player that can lead them for the next 10-to-15 years.