The Buffalo Sabres are slated to pick first in the NHL Entry Draft on July 23 and chances are they will select either Owen Power, Matty Beniers or Luke Hughes if they retain that pick. Power dramatically increased his already high draft stock through a strong performance at the World Championship in Riga, Latavia where he won gold for team Canada and picked up “player of the game” honors along the way in the quaterfinals. His strong performance has many thinking that Power is the slam-dunk choice for the Sabres at first overall.
Mark Masters of TSN recently interviewed Owen Power and asked him about the possibility of playing for the Buffalo Sabres.
"It'd be awesome," (Power) said. "It's nice and close to home, so lots of family would be able to come down ... I would go to games when I was younger and watch the Leafs versus Sabres down in Buffalo. Obviously, it's two big fan bases and a pretty good rivalry."
Between his performance and his comments to TSN, it seems like the Sabres would make the tall defenseman their number one overall pick if they do not trade their selection. The Sabres could, however, trade that pick either for a player on another team, or trade down the draft board and perhaps pick up players and/or prospects in the process. There are surely other teams that would love to draft Owen Power if the Sabres are only lukewarm on the hulking blueliner.
There is also a chance that the Sabres pick up another top-10 selection in the draft by trading either Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart. For both of these reasons, we’re going to take a look at some prospects that are in the second tier, starting with William Eklund.
A random survey of NHL mock drafts online from Mynhldraft.com, NBC Sports, Bleacher Report and The Sporting News have Eklund going 5th, 12th, 7th and 7th in the draft. For context and to help imagine a trade that gets the Sabres to that position, those positions in the draft are currently occupied by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the San Jose Sharks and the Calgary Flames. All three of those teams have a need for a player of Jack Eichel’s caliber at center so it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a trade scenario whereby the Sabres attain one of those picks. Now let’s move on to the nitty gritty of William Eklund.
Eklund is a Swedish center/left wing who spent the past season playing in the Swedish elite league (SHL) with Djurgårdens IF. As an 18-year-old playing against more mature competition, Eklund put up a respectable 23 points in 40 games. He also added 2 points in 3 playoff games. The Haninge native is on the smaller side at 5’10” and 176 pounds but what he lacks in size he makes up for with what is often described as an elite wrist shot.
Eklund uses the larger European ice surface to his advantage in most of the highlight packages that showcase his goalscoring prowess. His shot is undeniably good. The potentially scary thought is the manner in which Eklund scores many of his goals by driving to wide-open swaths of ice in front of the goaltender. The opposing defensemen in the SHL tend to use poke checks to take the puck off an attacker’s stick rather than going for a body check because the broad ice surface could make them look very silly if they miss a check and the forward simply side-steps them. In the NHL though, the condensed ice surface and the more physical nature of the game could spell some trouble for the skilled forward.
Moving from the corner of the ice into the low slot for a wrist shot is likely to result in a hit that NHL ’99 announcer Bill Clement would liken to traveling “northbound on a southbound freeway.” The smaller North American playing surface makes it much more difficult to leave the corner and head to the low slot which is occupied by a defenseman is in front of his net. It's not often a forward can simply skate into the middle without getting demolished. Eklund scores a fair amount of the goals shown in the highlight packages in this manner where the defenseman doesn’t try to line him up for a hit, although that could also be due to his very good skating.
The young Swede has good speed and excellent edgework that allow him to make tight, turning cycle plays in the offensive zone in addition to his ability to create off the rush. Eklund often combines his excellent footwork with his playmaking ability to get the opposition to over pursue on a play at which point he’ll find the open man with a pass. This playmaking ability will serve him especially well if he does indeed end up as a centerman in the NHL rather than a left wing.
One of Eklund’s favorite options to dish the puck to is teammate and fellow countryman Alexander Holtz who was taken 7th overall in the draft last year by the New Jersey Devils. The New Jersey Devils will be picking 4th this year, which is maybe a touch early for Eklund, but the Devils must surely have him under consideration in a year where the projected draft order is more a matter of preference than flat-out skill. For what it’s worth, Eklund 5 more points than Holtz in the regular season this year even though Holtz is a year older. The Devils will have a hard time selecting Eklund if Jack Hughes’s dynamic little brother Luke is still available at #4, though. A Hughes brother reunion in the Garden State must sound pretty good to GM Tom Fitzgerald who I did not have to google because I definitely knew Tom Fitzgerald was GM of the Devils.
Anyhoo, let’s see what the experts have to say about William Eklund:
Ben Kerr (lastwordonsports.com):
Eklund is a very smart player. He loves to slow the play down and find openings in the defence. He has very good stickhandling and puck control, as well as his good balance. This allows him to control the puck in the offensive zone and wait for opportunities to pass the puck to a teammate. When that opportunity comes he can quickly thread a pass through a small area, or saucer it over a stick to set up a scoring chance for a teammate. Eklund also creates openings and passing lanes with his quick stick and excellent skating ability. If he gets a step on a defender, he is not afraid to quickly dart by him and head to the net. Eklund is not afraid to play in the dirty areas of the ice.
Alexander Appleyard (smahtscouting.com):
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.
Steve Kournianos (thedraftanalyst.com):
Calling Eklund anything short of a puck wizard would be borderline insulting. He’s the most talented of any draft-eligible forward in terms of pure puck skills and there isn’t a situation or coverage that has proven to limit his creativity. There’s simply no way to prepare for him as he can be as dangerous from the top of the right circle as he is behind the net or along the goal line.
Eklund Scouting Source Video:
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