The first round of the 2021 NHL Draft will take place on July 23. Following the results of the draft lottery, the Flames hold the 12th overall selection and will have a chance to add a high-end prospect to their organization.
Every year, there seems to be a polished, mature Swedish forward destined to go very early in the first round. This year’s polished, mature Swedish forward is William Eklund.
Eklund is one of the older first-time eligible players in the draft class as an October 2002 birthday, but also one of the most polished and skilled. He’s a left shot forward who can play centre or the wing. He’s listed at 5’10” and 170 pounds, slightly bigger than Andrew Mangiapane, and he hails from Haninge, Sweden, just outside of Stockholm.
Eklund’s a product of the Djurgardens IF organization. He’s played a season and a half in the SHL after being a really promising junior and U18 player in Sweden, and his game took a big step in 2020-21.
Over at FC Hockey, Lauren Kelly raved about Eklund’s overall game:
Eklund is one of the most well-rounded prospects available in 2021, as his offensive instincts are powered by great vision, he makes great decisions with and without the puck, and is reliable in his own end. Eklund’s puck retrievals are also a standout, and make him an effective defensive and shorthanded player. Skating seems to be the only question mark with Eklund, but it shouldn’t hold him back from a successful career in the NHL.
Smaht Scouting’s Alexander Appleyard had similar praise, while also acknowledging Eklund’s skating needs development:
Eklund is the highest IQ player in this draft. He already understands coverages better than most NHL top six forwards. The Stockholm native seems to know what defensemen are going to do before they themselves make a decision. As a result he manages to get completely free around the slot, near the crease, behind the net, and in the circles more often than seems plausible. With the puck on his stick he puts his brain-power to use as well. He turns players inside out regularly on the cycle, not through outrageous moves, but by cutting back on himself at the very moments his marker least expects him to, leaving them out of position and with Eklund free to walk in towards goal.
There’s one thing you need to know about the SHL: generally-speaking, teenagers don’t play a ton even if they dress for every game. The SHL tends to lean heavily on players in their mid-to-late 20s, and so you won’t usually see teens registering a ton of points.
Eklund had 11 goals and 23 points in 40 games for Djurgardens in 2020-21. He was tied for 80th in points and tied for 51st in goals overall. Among teenagers, he led both categories league-wide, ahead of 2020 draft picks Alexander Holtz (New Jersey), Lucas Raymond (Detroit), Helge Grans (Los Angeles) and Zion Nybeck (Carolina), among others. Even compared to older players with more pro experience, Eklund stacks up remarkably well statistically.
Availability and fit
The only knock on Eklund, from a Flames perspective, is that he’s a left shot. But he’s a really versatile, talented left shot forward from Sweden, so the Flames likely have a good amount of familiarity given how much they scout Sweden and how much hockey Eklund has played over the past few seasons. He’s not an amazing skater, but that’s something they can work around given how well he’s already managed to play at the pro level.
The only trouble is there are 11 teams drafting before the Flames who probably also would like to have him on their team. Here’s a snapshot of where the major draft evaluators have Eklund relative to the rest of the 2021 class:
McKeen’s Hockey — 3rd
Future Considerations — 5th
The Athletic (Corey Pronman) — 3rd
Dobber Prospects — 2nd
TSN (Bob McKenzie) — 7th
Draft Prospects Hockey — 7th
NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters) — 1st
Recruit Scouting — 4th
EliteProspects.com — 2nd
Smaht Scouting — 2nd
Eklund is really good, but he’ll be gone well before Flames hit the virtual podium.
2021 First Round Targets
Matthew Coronato | Aatu Räty | Mason McTavish | Kent Johnson | Chaz Lucius | Dylan Guenther | Jesper Wallstedt | Corson Ceulemans | Fabian Lysell | Fyodor Svechkov | Oskar Olausson | Logan Stankoven | Simon Robertsson | Cole Sillinger | Isak Rosen | Simon Edvinsson