NHL Draft: San Jose Sharks select William Eklund with No. 7 pick

The San Jose Sharks selected Swedish-born forward William Eklund with the seventh-overall pick in the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday.

It was the Sharks’ highest-overall pick since 2003 when they selected forward Milan Michalek sixth overall.

Eklund, who turns 19 on Oct. 12, was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the top international skater.

Few players drafted each year are ready to play in the NHL right away. Eklund might be a long shot to be in a Sharks uniform at the start of the regular season, but he might be closer to the show than a few other players selected in the top 10 Friday.

He played in the top-tier Swedish Hockey League this past season against more physically mature players and had 23 points in 40 games for Djurgardens, stats that are among the highest-ever in that league for a draft-eligible player.

But Eklund, listed at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, has also been described as a steady, two-way player with terrific hockey sense, a trait the Sharks typically covet, and has drawn comparisons to Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes.

ESPN and Sportsnet analyst Sam Costentino on Friday said Eklund was the most improved player in Europe this past year, combining responsible play with dynamic playmaking and skill.

In the first six picks, defenseman Owen Power went first overall to the Buffalo Sabres, followed by his Michigan teammate, center Matty Beniers, going to the expansion Seattle Kraken.

Center Mason McTavish went third to the Anaheim Ducks, and Luke Hughes became the second defenseman drafted, going fourth overall to New Jersey. Another Michigan Wolverine, center Kent Johnson went fifth overall to Columbus.

Defenseman Simon Edvinsson went to Detroit, leaving the Sharks to select Eklund.

This year’s draft was expected to be one of the most unpredictable in years, as NHL scouts grappled with getting a complete read on some individual players.

While Power was thought to be the best player available, followed by Beniers, predicting who went third through sixth was more of a challenge. Same with the bottom half of the top 10, as it all depended on how teams felt about each player.

“There’s some really quality guys in the range that we’re in,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said earlier this week. “it’s the first time in 18 years that we’ve drafted this high. It just so happens to fall in the draft that is at least eight, nine players deep, so we’ll see how it all unfolds.

“Every team has a different plan on what they’re looking at, and I don’t think anybody can predict exactly how it’s going to fall.”

Despite the pandemic limiting the number of games in the NCAA and USHL, and major junior games in Western Canada and Quebec, Sharks’ scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said his staff’s evaluation process carried without much interruption.

“So the only players this truly affects are maybe second to seventh round OHL players that didn’t play at all,” Wilson Jr. said.

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Author: Curtis Pashelka