William Eklund Celebrating
The year 2020 may finally and mercifully be over, but the strange circumstances remain. Attempting to traverse the scouting of draft-eligible prospects in this pandemic-filled world is no easy feat. That is why you’re seeing my first published board in the New Year instead of in the summer as usual.
The WHL and OHL have yet to fire up. We’re hopeful for both, but at this point, anything could happen. The Swedish J20 is done for the year, but at least it had a bit of a run and the top players are finding some ice in the SHL and Allsvenskan. Several other leagues have started, stopped, re-started and are teetering perilously on the brink.
I was hesitant to release a board before giving players a chance to showcase their skills this season. And while that has yet to be possible for all, we’ve had enough of them get that chance through their main leagues or via transfers overseas or cross-continent.
I want to be very clear that this board in particular is fundamentally flawed. My top spot has bounced between an OHLer who’s been shipped overseas and has a grand total of 10 games played this season and a late-02 riser. As the games play on, there will be those who will assert themselves with more playing time. Others will push their stock down with further views.
Take this list with a healthy grain of salt – as you should with every public list you come across right now.
As always, my assessments are limited. I am but one man who also has a five-year-old son, a one-year-old daughter, a teaching career, and many writing commitments. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a very patient wife and am privileged to have several experienced scouts to bounce things off of. Additionally, having access to InStatHockey has been the gift that keeps on giving. It’s provided more than I can state.
This is not intended to mock up what the selections may end up being. This is how I perceive the player today in conjunction with how I believe they will progress and develop. It’s projection over current product. Translatable traits trump all. I’m limited to mostly assessing these players on their on-ice achievements. Knowing these young men as individuals would be telling towards their drive and determination. Something that cannot be understated. I lean on established scouts, coaches, and agents to help fill in the gaps.
Regarding my method, I place immense value on skating ability and processing speed. Physical attributes are great, but if you can’t see the play develop or recognize your options quickly, both offensively and defensively, you’ll be destined for an uphill battle. In my opinion, if you’re intelligent, you can overcome plenty of limitations. If you’re gifted physically, yet have limited awareness on the ice, you’re at more of a disadvantage. Add them together and you have the recipe for immense success.
The top-10 skaters are all housed in one single tier. At this point, I wouldn’t fault a person for putting any of them at the top of the heap. It’s that wide open this year. After that, we’re looking at a grouping from around 11 to 19, another tier from 20 onwards.
1. William Eklund, W / 5’10 172lbs / 2002-10-12 / SHL
A fantastic showing in the SHL this season has vaulted Eklund up the draft boards. He’s an opportunistic point-producer who thinks the game at a high-level and boasts terrific vision and passing skills. He’s already making plays that involve a high degree of difficulty and creativity against men. If he can add an extra gear to the skating, watch out. It’s a wide-open field for the top spot this year, but he starts out as my favourite.
2. Brandt Clarke, RHD / 6’1 181lbs / 2003-02-09 / Slovakia
The OHL first team rookie blends quality skating and offensive instincts with an elite brain for the game. Has already adjusted well to the professional ranks in Slovakia and would be tearing the OHL apart if it were playing. My belief in his upside is strong.
3. Matthew Beniers, C / 6’1 174lbs / 2002-11-05 / NCAA
The 18-year-old has been on the draft radar for years. He’s been a dynamic producer on the USNTDP squads and now he’s a two-way force at the NCAA level. A terrific WJC performance hasn’t hurt his stock one bit. The gaudy point totals won’t likely follow, but he has a ton of translatable skills. Speed and transitional effectiveness to burn.
4. Jesper Wallstedt, G / 6’3 209lbs / 2002-11-14 / SHL
If Yaroslav Askarov was the best goaltending prospect since Carey Price, Jesper Wallstedt is the best since Askarov. He’s large, he’s active, he shows up in big-game moments. Already looking overly comfortable in the SHL. The sky’s the limit here.
5. Fabian Lysell, RW/LW / 5’10 176lbs / 2003-01-19 / SHL
The name of the game is pace with Lysell. He’s a highly skilled puck handler and skater who never takes a shift off. Underrated shot. Stackable skillset. Added deception with gear-changes is the next item needed.
6. Luke Hughes, LHD / 6’2 176lbs / 2003-09-09 / USNTDP
One of the youngest players in the group also boasts some of the highest upside. Despite adding several inches over the summer, he remains coordinated. His stride is long and fluid. He’s not as creative as his older brothers but can cause fits in transition. Can make players miss in all three zones. A ton to like here, but he could certainly add some zip to his shot.
7. Aatu Räty, C / 6’1 181lbs / 2002-11-14 / Liiga
Once considered the top prospect in this class, his stock has taken a major hit. He found himself in the U20 league for a spell after playing much of last season in the Liiga. He was a returning player for the WJC squad who managed to get cut. It was not pretty. Yet he still brings a lot of translatable skills. Handles, a quick release, smarts, and two-way acumen. You might be landing a second-line player, but his skill has not gone away. He’s been looking like his old self of late too.
8. Owen Power, LHD / 6’5 209lbs / 2002-11-22 / NCAA
You can’t teach size and skating ability as Power has. He’s been fairly average as a freshman at the University of Michigan after playing on the all-star team known as the Chicago Steel the year before. But it’s all about the upside with the 18-year-old. If he breaks right, you’re looking at a high-end 1D. I just wonder about the decision-making.
9. Kent Johnson, W/C / 6’1 168lbs / 2002-10-18 / NCAA
Has some of the best pure offensive skills from a forward in this crop, and has been a wizard in the NCAA this season. More of a passer than a finisher, he could stand to add some weight to his shot. Ditto for his straightaway speed. But the craftiness to his game more than makes up for it. I’d like to see him go a little more east-west.
10. Simon Edvinsson, LHD / 6’4 185lbs / 2003-02-05 / SHL
Large and in charge, Edvinsson can do things at his size that players significantly smaller cannot. His ability to quickly cover ground is nearly unmatched in this class. This is a very raw prospect but one that boasts incredible upside. But the awareness is a question mark at this point.
11. Stanislav Svozil, LHD / 6’1 172lbs / 2003-01-17 / Czech
The Czech product is silky smooth out there. He engages quickly and decisively with the puck, can break out with smart passes, and is always assessing the ice. Took home the Rookie of the Year in the top league last seaso