Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series, as The Detroit News breaks down the NHL Entry Draft by position heading into the July 23-24 event. Today: Forwards.
Detroit — William Eklund isn’t the biggest player in this draft, but few players in this class have his offensive ability.
For that reason, expect Eklund to be picked pretty quickly on July 23 during the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
“I know I’m not going to be the tallest player on the team, (but) I see the game has changed so much over the past few years,” Eklund said during a media Zoom call recently. “Those smaller, really skilled players can be really effective in the NHL, too.
“It’s fun to see they have such good success in the NHL.”
Most talent evaluators don’t feel Eklund’s 5-foot-10, 176-pound frame will hold him back from enjoying NHL success.
NHL Central Scouting had Eklund as the top-rated skater out of Europe in its final rankings. If he’s still on the board when the Red Wings select at No. 6 overall, there’s a good chance they would take him.
“He competes and works hard with excellent hockey sense, quickness and elite puck skills to be both a playmaker and a scorer,” Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, said. “He plays bigger than his size and plays to win.”
Eklund received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence from the NHL, an award given to a candidate who best exemplifies commitment to excellent through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.
While playing in Djurgardens in the Swedish Hockey League this season, Eklund had an emergency appendectomy and came down with COVID-19.
Despite the health setbacks and being an 18-year-old in a men’s league, Eklund had 11 goals and 12 assists in 40 games and was named the junior player of the year in Sweden.
More: Possible Wings pick William Eklund draws comparisons to Henrik Zetterberg
Given Eklund’s size and the way he plays, it’s not surprising one of his favorite players to watch is the New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, who is a similar, crafty offensive player.
“He’s amazing to watch,” Eklund said. “I try to look at how he uses his edges in the corners and how fast he turns and gets out with his speed; how good he is at finding his teammates, too.”
Regardless of which team selects Eklund, there’s the likelihood he’ll return to Sweden to play one more season for Djurgardens. The organization, coincidentally, named former Wings assistant coach Barry Smith as its new head coach this offseason.
“I have one more year in Europe to develop into a better player here,” Eklund said. “I’ve seen a lot of players come back to Sweden to play one more year to develop and that’s a good thing, especially this year when we’ve got a good coach, a good group here.”
While no forwards are projected to walk into the NHL next season and make an impact, there is depth at the position in this draft.
With a strong emphasis in the NHL these days on two-way players who can prevent goals as well as they can score them, there are several players who fit that description and could eventually become NHL regulars.
Here’s a look at the forwards who are expected to be drafted in the first round and are likely to be considerations for the Red Wings, who hold the No. 6 and No. 22 picks:
► Mason McTavish, center: Talk about a player whose stock has risen since the spring. McTavish has kept getting better and with the way he works at both ends of the rink, coupled with his size (6-2, 207), there’s a lot to like. The Wings would grab him at No. 6, given their lack of depth at center in the organization.
► Dylan Guenther, right wing: Maybe Guenther will be there for the Wings at No. 6, but it’s doubtful. Guenther is one of the true, pure goal-scorers in this class and is a player who can score goals in a variety of ways.
► Matt Beniers, center: He’ll be a top-five or, at worst, a top-10 pick, but there have been some concerns lately about whether the Michigan standout projects to be a No. 1 center or one of the middle lines. It’s assumed he’ll figure out ways to produce offense.
► Kent Johnson, center/wing: He’s another Michigan product who will return to the Wolverines as a likely top-10 pick. Some scouts worry about his speed, but given his offensive ability, Johnson is expected to produce points in the NHL.
► Chaz Lucius, center/wing: Injuries stalled his season, but Lucius has the potential to be a game-breaker offensively. He’s good around the net and has fine instincts. Most projections have Lucius going somewhere in the 10-17 range.
► Cole Sillinger, center/wing: Like his father Mike, Sillinger plays the game hard and plays it well. He’s been a goal-scorer in every league he’s played in and he knows the importance of playing sound defense. He appears to be a solid, safe pick.
► Fyodor Svechkov, center/wing: He might not be flashy offensively, but Svechkov is a sturdy 6-foot, 180-pound center who can defend and kill penalties. He’ll eventually strengthen a lineup.
► Brennan Othmann, center/wing: With no OHL season due to the pandemic, the Flint Firebird went to Switzerland to play and continued to show a speedy, in-your-face game that should serve him well in the NHL. Othmann (6-foot, 175) has some physical maturing to do, but his offensive ability has been impressive in junior.
► Fabian Lysell, left wing: He has speed, lots of it, and has the skill to match it. However, there are concerns about his inconsistency as well as the fact he’s not big (5-10, 172) and doesn’t play a physical game. Lysell will need time to develop in Sweden.
► Aatu Raty, center: Fascinating case, it really is. Raty was considered a sure-fire top-five pick a year or two ago and the face of this draft class. But he had a bad season in Finland and his stock fell dramatically. His skating is suspect, but if Raty is around when the Wings pick at No. 22, would they take the gamble?