With the Flames officially eliminated from playoff contention, the attention has now turned to the 2021 NHL Draft where the Flames will most likely have a top 11 pick for the first time since selecting Matthew Tkachuk sixth overall in 2016.
Throughout the coming weeks leading up to the draft, we will be breaking down the draft’s top prospects who have a chance of landing with the Flames. We broke down the consolidated top 100 prospect rankings earlier this week, and will be taking a deeper look at the names projected to go in the top 20 of the draft.
Although there is no consensus top pick this year, Michigan forward Matthew Beniers is the only player projected to go top three by every major outlet. For this reason we will leave him out of our player profiles for now unless the Flames end up winning a lottery spot.
First up for our 2021 prospect previews is Swedish forward William Eklund. One of the older names available at the top of the draft, Eklund has also been described as one of the most mature and NHL ready names available this year.
Who is William Eklund?
Born on October 12th, 2002, Eklund is one of the older players available at the top of the draft as he missed the cut off for the 2020 draft by just under one month. Eklund is a native of Sweden, which is where he has spent his entire playing career to date, working his way up through Sweden’s various leagues.
Eklund has played in the U16 Division, J18 Elit, J18 Allsvenskan, the J20 SuperElit, and most recently the SHL, Sweden’s top men’s hockey league. He’s spent his entire career playing with the Djurgardens IF organization. His father, Christian Eklund is a club legend there and his 2022 draft eligible brother Victor Eklund also plays in the organization.
Eklund is a left shot and has spent time playing both centre and left wing in his career. He played mostly left wing in the SHL this year due to his age, but is a natural centre. He stands at 5’10 and 172 pounds.
William Eklund’s on-ice production
Next up let’s take a look at Eklund’s production in each division in Sweden he’s mainly played in over the past three seasons.
|2018-19||D-2||J18 Allsvenskan||Djurgardens IF J18||13||6||7||13||N/A|
|2019-20||D-1||J20 SuperElit||Djurgardens IF J20||31||12||24||36||N/A|
As mentioned above, Eklund has spent some time in a ton of different league’s in Sweden. In 2018-19 he played 13 games each in the J18 Elit, J18 Allsvenskan, and J20 SuperElit leagues. Although he put up just three points in 13 games in the J20 SuperElit that year, playing in the J20 league as a 16 year old is impressive. His most success that year came in the J18 Allsvenskan with 13 points in 13 games.
During the 2019-20 season he broke out as a top player to watch, lighting up the J20 league for 36 points in 31 games, a huge improvement on his three points in the league from the previous season. He also earned a spot in the SHL that year, getting two points in 20 games as a 17 year old.
This most recent season, Eklund spent the entire year in the SHL putting up a very solid 23 points in 40 games as an 18 year old. That total was first in the league among draft eligible players. In fact, his point total from this season was the fifth best in league history among draft eligible players.
The last player to put up more points in his draft year in the SHL was the Flame’s own Elias Lindholm who had 30 points in 48 games in 2012-13. Along with Lindholm, the only other draft eligible players to put up more points in the SHL were Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Sedin, and Daniel Sedin. Some solid company.
He also outscored 2020 fourth overall pick Lucas Raymond and 2020 seventh overall pick and teammate Alexander Holtz as both had only 18 points.
Eklund has represented and excelled for Sweden at the international level at pretty much every age. He put up 12 points in nine games in the U16 tournament, 10 points in 11 games in the U17 tournament, and five points in five games at the U18 Hlinka tournament last year. He was expected to play a major role on Sweden’s 2021 World Junior team, but unfortunately missed the tournament due to Covid-19.
William Eklund’s strengths
Eklund’s biggest strength is without a doubt his hockey IQ. He’s arguably the smartest player in the draft, and it shows every time he’s on the ice. He’s a player who loves slowing the play down and using his vision and hockey IQ to find gaps in the defence for a quick pass or lane to the net.
He regularly holds onto the puck in the offensive zone before using his high-end vision to thread a pass to a teammate through tight spaces. He’s also a very creative player in the offensive zone, creating scoring chances seemingly out of nowhere using his vision and skill with the puck.
Another key strength to his game is his skating ability. He possesses top-end but not elite speed, however it’s his edgework and ability to change direction quickly that makes him stand out. He regularly uses his elite edgework and agility to shake defenders and create open space for himself anywhere on the ice. He would be described as more of an east-west player than a north-south one.
He uses his smarts paired with his elusive skating ability to anticipate what defenders will do, and then make room for himself all around the offensive zone. His anticipation, awareness, and ability to read defenders is at an elite level for someone his age. His skating paired with his elite hockey IQ make him a very hard player to contain when he has the puck. Here’s a perfect example.
He’s also very solid in the defensive zone, especially for a player his age. This earned him the trust of his coaches in Djurgardens this year where he was trusted in all situations. He isn’t very physical in the defensive zone, but he uses his smarts and an active stick to break up plays with great positioning. He has shown he can be a top end two way player.
William Eklunds’s areas of improvement
Although it’s not a huge weakness, Eklund could work on his shot going forward. He does have a very quick release on both his wrister and snap-shot, however his shot isn’t the strongest or the most accurate.
He will need to work on his overall shot selection as well. At times he can fire shots into traffic that have a low chance of actually getting to the net. He could also be more selfish at times as he tends to pass up good looks to look for a pass instead.
He could also improve on his strength, but this is something that should come with age as he adjusts to the NHL level. His elite edgework keeps him from getting pushed around too much in the SHL, but he’ll have to add some more strength once he gets to the NHL. The good news is with improved size and strength as he gets older it should also help him add more velocity to his shot.
Eklund needs some improvement in the faceoff circle as well, but once again this is something that should come with improved strength as he gets older. It won’t prevent him from playing centre at the NHL level.
Fit with the Flames
A Swedish forward? Is there a better fit with the Flames? It’s no secret the Flames lack top end talent on offense as they were one of the lowest scoring teams in the league this season. With the team looking at a top 13 pick in the draft, they have a great opportunity to add a high end offensive producer to their organization. Eklund is just that.
He isn’t a perfect fit as he’s left handed and has never played on the right side which is the team’s biggest need, but he’s still a dynamic offensive talent which is something the Flames sorely lack right now. With Sean Monahan dealing with a string of recent injuries and Mikael Backlund getting into his mid 30’s, adding a centre like Eklund would be a great add for the Flames who may need some help at centre sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day, the Flames should be using this pick to add a top end offensive talent, regardless of position. Eklund would offer them a great opportunity to add a potential future star at forward.
Eklund is without question one of the top forwards available in the draft. His combination of elite IQ paired with top end skating and skills with the puck make him a very dangerous player in the offensive zone. Add to that his maturity and solid defensive play for his age, and you’ve got the most NHL ready player in the draft.
He comes with a high floor which means he doesn’t come with very much risk. In fact he’s probably one of the least risky picks in the draft given his skillset. Even if his point production doesn’t translate to the NHL, his IQ, and overall smarts at both ends of the ice will ensure he is a useful NHL player. If he does put it all together at the NHL level though he could end up being a star player for whichever team picks him.
Eklund has a very good shot at stepping right into the NHL next season, however he could also benefit from another year playing in the SHL as well as playing in the World Junior tournament. At most though, he is one year away from being a full time NHL player.
Eklund will most likely be one of the first forwards off the board and out of reach for the Flames, however if he does slip to them picking him would be a no brainer. He’ll be suiting up for Sweden at the upcoming IIHF World Championships, giving fans a great look at what he brings to the table.
Projection: Top six playmaking two-way centre
Featured image created with Venngage.