We are heading over to Europe for this week’s column. Jimmy Hamrin is up again with a profile of another highly touted Swedish prospect in William Eklund. The Swedish contingent of draft eligible prospects is strong this season with four of them ranked in the McKeen’s top ten. Jimmy has written about Wallstedt and Edvinsson in this space already and will write up Fabian Lysell soon enough. In the feature, Hamrin provides an interesting and favorable comparison of Eklund to high picks from last year in Lucas Raymond (#3 Detroit) and Alexander Holz (#7 New Jersey).
Marco Bombino has been very impressed with the play of Eemil Viro, picked 70th overall in last year’s draft by the Detroit Red Wings (We had him ranked 86th). He has emerged this season playing against men in the Liiga and looking like another one of Steve Yzerman’s gems in the pipeline.
In a challenging year for scouting, McKeen’s has been very fortunate for our experienced team of analysts/scouts. While we use all tools available, including video (so important this year and very grateful for InStat Hockey), but for a number of years the basis of our reports and analysis have been in person viewings. It has helped that our senior analysts/scouts will already have seen so many of these players in person prior to their NHL Draft eligible season with a solid foundation of notes and knowledge to evaluate them while not solely relying on video. That time in rinks (and in cars, unfortunately) are very evident in the features below.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
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Prospect in the News: Red Wings Eemil Viro developing rapidly and looking like a third-round steal
By Marco Bombino
Emil Viro, D, 6’0, 175lbs (Detroit Red Wings – drafted 70th overall in 2020)
2020-21 – TPS, Liiga, 41GP-4G-8A-12PTS
Eemil Viro has really come into his own with TPS in the Finnish Liiga this season. He has been playing with remarkable consistency, maturity and he is averaging more than 17 minutes of ice-time per game, with a large chunk of it coming at even strength. He has also played well for the Finnish U20 national team this season, first in various camps and most recently at the U20 World Championship, where he did not stand out early on, but played his best games at the end of the tournament.
His decision making has greatly improved this season. In the past Liiga season, he occasionally played somewhat cautiously and made iffy decisions with the puck under pressure. But now he looks much more comfortable and confident playing against men. He takes fewer risks offensively and keeps the game simple enough.
Viro is a mobile, smooth skating defenseman with a powerful first step. He has great quickness in his first few strides and good top speed. He also displays impressive agility and edge work; he can make shifty moves to shake off forecheckers and create more space for himself. His skating is very good, and he uses it effectively to his advantage.
He already showed glimpses of high-level offensive skills last season and has continued to do so. He can join the rush well and help his team in offensive transitions. However, the offensive flashes have been more of an added bonus, rather than his calling card. That said, Viro definitely has an offensive flair to his game. He is a skilled puck mover who gives smart and productive passes. He can carry the puck from his own end. Most importantly, he has learned to pick these moments more wisely, without forcing the game or skating into a dead end with the puck.
He has strong physical attributes and a good approach. He is willing to battle for loose pucks along the boards and he does not give up an inch. He reads the game well in his own end, he pressures forwards at the right times and also knows when to contain instead. His assertiveness and willingness to battle were great to watch at the U20 national team camp in July 2020. As he continues to get stronger, he's going to be very tough to play against as far as physical play is concerned.
If there is one particular area which needs improvement, it would be his shot. To his credit, he gets his wrist shots through the defender and keeps them low, aiming at redirections and rebounds. But a lack of velocity and power limits his usefulness on the power play. Unless he improves his shooting ability drastically, it is difficult for me to envision him as a strong power play contributor in the NHL.
According to InStat Hockey, he averages the third most ice-time among TPS defensemen. He does not play significant minutes on special teams, but he plays more than any other TPS player at even strength (14:28). In this regard, the coaching staff really trusts him and deservedly so. Viro has shown lots of improvement, he has earned his ice-time and emerged as one of the better young defensemen in the league.
The future looks bright for the Detroit Red Wings third round pick. Considering the current pace, he is developing with, his versatility and maturity as a player, it won't take very long until he takes his talents to North America. I could see him spend one more season with TPS in Finland before being ready for the next challenge. I think Viro has all the tools to play in the NHL. He may not become a top pairing defenseman – although I wouldn't exclude that just yet – but he could be a really good second-pairing blueliner in his prime years. He still has ways to go to reach his potential, but the Red Wings should be very happy about the way he has been developing after selecting him in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Editor's Note: The Boston Bruins face the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday at 6:30 ET on NBCSN or livestream the game here.
2021 NHL Draft Prospect: If you are small and skilled – Play like William Eklund – How he compares to Raymond and Holtz
By Jimmy Hamrin
William Eklund, C-LW, 5’10”, 175lbs
2020-21 Djurgardens IF, SHL 37GP-11G-9A-20PTS
William Eklund surprised a lot of hockey viewers in Sweden when he was able to step up in the SHL and become a productive player right away. He is a late 2002 born and always been a strong prospect. When I scouted the age group as U16 players I had him in a dominant top four with Lucas Raymond (drafted fourth overall in 2020 by Detroit), Alexander Holtz (drafted seventh overall in 2020 by New Jersey) and Jesper Wallstedt (currently ranked fourth by McKeen’s) as the best 2002 players. Eklund was not as physically developed then but his puck skills and balance were already amazing.
Now, three years later, he has been producing better than both Holtz and Raymond in the SHL this season. Eklund has scored 0.54 points per game to Raymond’s 0.53 and Holtz’s 0.46 so far this season. If we look at only even strength, Eklund´s gap grows compared to Raymond with the former producing more on the power play. The underlying stats reveal some interesting differentiations. Raymond and Holtz shoot more and have more scoring chances while Eklund delivers more slot passes and many more zone entries than his fellow super talents. If you watch them play that is not surprising but it is an anomaly that Eklund has scored more goals while Raymond and Holtz have more assists than Eklund.
The underlying numbers are indicative of what kind of player William Eklund is. He drives play with speed and shifty skating. He can transport the puck long distances and slip his way through a defense and create offense. His playmaking is stronger than his scoring ability (even if has more goals than assist this season). His 19.3-shooting percentage is higher than he will be able to sustain, and while he scores most goals at near range, he owns a sneaky good wrist shot which he can fire away while moving forward. He has scored some goals coming down on the fly (dot to dot) that way.
Eklund is also a standout player in front and around the net. His puck skills in those areas are amazing. Even if he is small, he has no problem with taking the inside on his opponents. He takes the most direct route to net and uses impressive balance and stickwork to trick defensemen and goalies. On a power play you can use Eklund as a playmaker from the circle, but I believe he is most effective as a playmaker below the circles and behind the net. He can shoot very well with little room and the puck close to his feet while turning his body. His agility on his skates makes him hard to contain.
William Eklund is 5´10 and weighs 175lbs but is still a hazard for senior SHL defenseman. The size is not a big issue for Eklund as he uses his tools to his advantage. He is fearless in playing tight places, he can use the fact that he is quicker, smarter and more skilled than most defenseman he plays against and will be so at any level. His skating, his puck skills and hockey IQ are all elite. It is just not the speed in his skating that makes it elite, I would rank his edgework and balance as his best skating assets. If you have those assets, you will not see size as an issue.
Eklund is listed both as a center and winger and can play either way. I see him as winger in the future and there is where his game is best suited to play. Even if size is not an issue, he will need to get stronger, not specifically heavier, as he relies a lot on his shifty skating and balance to create. A player who plays a similar style and only weighing 172 lbs is Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers and he is doing alright using his strong balance to get to the inside of his opponents to create. Another one is Minnesota Wild rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov who is bulkier but has the same height as Eklund with a similar style of puck protecting.
The top of the 2021 draft is still unusually wide open and there is no real consensus of how the top will look. William Eklund is a probable top 10 pick this year and he has been ranked from everywhere from 1-10 so far in various public rankings. I see him as a future top line forward who could put up a point per game season or two at his peak. If we go back to the comparisons to Raymond and Holtz who were both picked high, with elite potential written beside their names, I can find good arguments that Eklund is at the same level talent wise. I would still rank Lucas Raymond ahead of the other two as I see his ceiling as a more dynamic player with more weapons. Alexander Holtz still needs to show that he can be that goal scorer his shot promises to be. Eklund is a better driver than Holtz and has shown a stronger development curve over the last year, so I see Eklund as a better bet than Holtz to reach his full potential.
PAST NBC EDGE MCKEEN’S 2021 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT REPORTS – In this weekly column we cover an NHL Draft prospect. Check out what we have written to date here listed by our most recent ranking.
#1 - Matthew Beniers C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 175 lbs
#2 – Owen Power, D, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’6” 215 lbs
#3 – Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP U18, D, 6’2” 175 lbs
#4 - Jesper Wallstedt G, Lulea, Sweden, G, 6’3” 200lbs
#5 – Simon Edvinsson, D, Vasteras, Allvenskan, 6’5”, 200lbs
#6 - Brandt Clarke, D, Nove Zamky, Slovakia, D, 6’1” 180 lbs
#9 – Aatu Raty, D, Kärpät, Liiga, Finland, 6’2” 185lbs
#10 – William Eklund, LW-C, Djurgårdens IF,SHL, Sweden, 5’10, 175lbs
#12 - Kent Johnston, C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 170 lbs