William Eklund is coming off a successful rookie campaign in the esteemed Djurgardens franchise despite facing his fair share of speed bumps along the way.
The Swedish forward finished the season ranked as Europe’s top skater and projects to be a top-six forward at the NHL level.
Team: Djurgardens, Swedish Hockey League
Position: Left winger
From: Haninge, Sweden
Weight: 172 pounds
Team Sweden was hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and Eklund was unable to compete in the world juniors due to a positive test prior to the tournament in early December. Roughly one month later he required an emergency appendectomy.
Considered a well-balanced forward with some similarities to former Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg, Eklund managed to overcome the aforementioned off-ice obstacles to record 11 goals and 12 assists in 40 games with Djurgardens in 2020-21. That 23-point total is the sixth-most in SHL history for a first-year draft eligible player.
The teen led all first-year players in goals and was named SHL Rookie of the Year, an award the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, Victor Hedman, William Karlsson and Elias Pettersson won prior to their respective stellar NHL careers.
He comes from a Djurgardens family
Eklund’s father, Christian Eklund, was a longtime professional in Europe. A former teammate of Mika Zibanejad, Patric Hornqvist, Niklas Kronwall, Johnny Oduya and Dan Boyle among others better known for their NHL careers, Christian spent 13 of his 20 pro seasons in the Djurgardens organization.
Eklund’s younger brother Victor is also taking the same path, currently a member of the Djurgardens U16 program.
What do the experts say?
Sam Cosentino: “The Wings have taken an abundance of D the past couple years, and have a great connection to Sweden. Why not go to the most improved draft eligible player in all of Europe?”
Central Scouting director of European scouting Goran Stubb: "He's a smallish forward with good speed, puck skills and vision. He sets up teammates well in the offensive zone and is a very good passer and playmaker. He's a good overall package but will need to bulk up."
Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com: “Eklund plays bigger than his frame with good speed, puck skills and vision. He was named rookie of the year in the SHL after scoring 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) while averaging 15:29 of ice time in 40 games. He was expected to play for Sweden at the World Championship, but an injury sustained during an exhibition game sidelined him for the tournament.”
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com: “He showed top-end offensive skill combined with the ability to win battles along the boards and held up well against physical play in the SHL. The Sharks (picking seventh) need to get younger and more dynamic as they look to contend for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Eklund has top-six potential.”