The San Jose Sharks have had several disappointing seasons recently. A team that was once able to make the Western Conference Finals in 2019 suddenly and rapidly began to decline. Within only a few months of being eliminated from the 2019 Playoffs, hope for a championship in San Jose began to fade. To make matters worse, former general manager Doug Wilson traded away their first-round pick in 2020 when Erik Karlsson was brought in, which became a lottery pick. By all accounts, it was going to be a long time before they could find a bright spot in their grim situation.
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While the Sharks continued to lose, management decided to try and fix the issue internally. They believed the team was still capable of winning their first Stanley Cup. However, despite this mentality, they were smart enough to avoid trading the future away. The team still did not make the playoffs, but they managed to find success through a high draft pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. With that pick, they selected William Eklund seventh overall. After spending one more season overseas, Eklund might be ready to join the team full-time and help change the franchise’s direction.
Sharks Continue to Struggle Offensively
The Sharks have struggled in almost every aspect of their game in the past few years. While goaltending and defense have been the most prominent issue, the offense is still not where it needs to be for them to make the playoffs consistently. Timo Meier, Thomas Hertl, and Logan Couture have been leading the team offensively, but the team could desperately use a young, fresh face to help lead the offense in the future. In this aspect, Eklund could slot in wonderfully.
Eklund’s game shines the most in his ability to control the flow of the game. He has a level of vision that made many scouts believe he should have gone higher in the draft than he did. In addition, his passing abilities are well above what is expected of many players his age. Considering how the top offensive producers on the Sharks are praised for their scoring ability, having Eklund play alongside them could boost the game of all players involved.
While Eklund’s game did not take a massive step this past year, his skill level could still translate well to the NHL level. In his limited time with the Sharks last year, he scored four points in nine games. Playing alongside the best players on the team impacted his game positively, even in a limited sample size. If he gets the same level of chances he did last year in the 2022-23 season, he could become one of the most impactful players on the team.
Eklund Could Develop in the Minors
While letting Eklund play in the NHL seems like the direction the Sharks are looking to go, letting him play in the American Hockey League (AHL) is still an option. The San Jose Barracuda, the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Sharks, has been largely dry of prospect talent in recent memory. So while the franchise is eager to get back into the playoffs as soon as possible, they might be better off letting their prospects develop at their own pace.
Eklund is not the only promising prospect that the Sharks have lined up for the future. Players like Thomas Bordeleau and Daniil Gushchin will be making their full-time transition to the organization as well. While they could all head to the NHL right off the bat, it might be more beneficial to their long-term games to let them play in the minors. Gaining more experience at a professional level, while not being thrown into the fire right off the bat could help them develop more confidence.
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Pairing Eklund alongside players like Bordeleau and Gushchin could take pressure off him. Right now, fans view him as one of the only saving graces of a disappointing Sharks team. Feeling responsible for turning the team around is a lot of pressure. Letting him play at a lower level with other promising prospects could help relieve some of that and, as a result, allow him to grow his game even further.
Sharks Need to Support Eklund Correctly
Developing NHL players is a two-way street. Expecting one player to become a superstar on their own is unrealistic. If the Sharks see Eklund as the franchise’s future face, they need to support him properly. Right now, the team has some players that are able to help him grow his game, but they need to continue growing that support to help him reach his full potential.
Eklund has the skill to drive the franchise going forward, but the talent surrounding him simply is not there for him to change the course direction alone. The Sharks need to continue to use the draft and free agency to find leaders on the ice to support his development, as leaving him out to dry could destroy his confidence. If there is one thing that the Sharks need to worry about more than their current inability to succeed, it is destroying their hope for the future.
More likely than not, the Sharks will play Eklund in the NHL next year alongside a mix of old and new talent. Expecting him to be the best player on the team immediately is unrealistic, but there is no doubt that his game will translate well to the NHL. Hopefully, with the right mix of development time and guidance, he can help get this fumbling franchise back on the right path.
Andrew Stille is a freelance writer for THW who is currently studying Journalism and Communication in college. In addition, he’s a devoted NHL content creator looking to grow and learn daily. Andrew is a trustworthy source for everything San Jose Sharks-related and strives to create fun and exciting articles for all readers.
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