Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2021 NHL Draft Class introductions. The 2020 Draft class was a blast and the 2021 NHL draft should be too. Alexis Lafreniere was the first overall pick for the New York Rangers in ‘20, but who will it be in ‘21? How about we here at Last Word introduce two names to pay attention to this season: Simon Edvinsson and William Eklund.
2021 NHL Draft Class Introductions: Who To Watch This Season
The 2021 NHL Draft class is stockpiled with several players who can all go first overall. There’s the obvious in the big three defenders, Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, and Carson Lambos. There are strong forwards in Aatu Raty, Chaz Lucius and Dylan Guenther. But there are also two guys less talked about. Simon Edvinsson, a left-handed defenceman who is well-rounded and known for his offensive abilities. As well as William Eklund, an underrated Swedish center, who is a strong skater and strong at attacking the middle of the ice.
2021 NHL Draft Class Introductions: William Eklund
Eklund, born October 12th, 2002, is one of the older players in the draft as he has already turned 18. Eklund is my 18th ranked prospect in 2021. Born in Haninge, Sweden, the 5’10”, 172-pound center stuck in the Swedish ranks, playing most recently for Djurgardens IF in the SHL. His rise to the top of the 2021 ranks started in the 2018-19 season, when he was named the assistant captain for Djurgardens IF’s U18 team in the J18 Elit and J18 Allsvenskan leagues, while also getting a taste of the J20 SuperElit ranks. Eklund combined for 22 points (10 goals and 12 assists) in 26 games in the J18 leagues that season and scored an impressive three points in 13 J20 contests.
In 2019-20, Eklund played two total games in the J18 circuit with three points and was thrust onto the J20 team full time. He recorded 12 goals and 24 assists for 36 points in 31 games with the club dominating as a 17-year-old and earning a call-up to the prestigious SHL. Though he only recorded two assists in 20 SHL games, the fact he carved out a role there at 17 is mighty impressive.
So far this season, Eklund has been quite impressive scoring three goals and six assists for nine points in 13 games. His high level of play in the SHL will only help his stock rise for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
William Eklund Overall Game
The thing that stood out to me first about Eklund was his communication with his teammates. He was taking a leader-like role and pointing out and calling for movement. He calls for passes and even if he doesn’t receive one, it draws some attention towards him which opens other lanes. He’s very vocal, and that displays his IQ while in the moment in all three zones and his overall poise. His ability to shout out where a teammate should be and keeping everyone in the right spots while also being in position himself is extremely impressive.
Second was his hard-nosed style on offence. Despite being undersized, he loves crashing in on the forecheck and sticking in front of the opposing net as a screen. He also has the awareness to come out from the front of the net and make himself a passing option for teammates. To put in perspective, in the one game I tracked, he had four total shot attempts, with three coming from the slot, all on the net. He was two for two passing in the offensive zone, but that’s less due to his lack of involvement and more because of his style of being in the low slot area.
Eklund’s Speed, Transition, and Defence
Eklund is a very smooth skater. He doesn’t have the blazing speed that someone like Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning possesses, but his stride is very technically sound and it looks effortless. His edgework is exceptional as well, able to turn without losing much speed and open the hips seamlessly and quickly, going from skating forwards to backwards at the snap of a finger.
The issue I saw with Eklund is his lack of involvement in the transitional game. His speed and awareness give him the tools to be strong in this area but his teammates just don’t feed him the puck. Part of the problem is he cheats up the ice a bit too much. But generally, he is open and often calling for a pass. In the game I tracked, he had one successful zone exit, and it was an uncontrolled clear. He had three total zone entries and one failed entry. Of the three successful ones, two were dump-ins.
Defensively, Eklund is sound with his positioning. He knows where to be and how to effectively use his body and stick to make plays. His awareness, which I touched on a bit earlier, shows through in the defensive end as well. It seems like he thinks the play two, three and even four steps ahead at times. He keeps his head on a swivel, constantly keeps his feet moving and isn’t afraid to help in front of the net or down low in the cycle.
With his well-rounded abilities, consistency will be key this season. If he can be consistent, he has high-end top-six upside with penalty-killing abilities. He will have to bulk up to play his style at the NHL level. However, he plays it extremely efficiently. That said, he may not have too big of an issue transitioning to the NHL-level. I’d compare him to someone like Ryan Callahan, but not as effective on the defensive end of the ice.
2021 NHL Draft Class Introductions: Simon Edvinsson
Edvinsson, a 6’4”, 185-pound left-handed defenceman, hails from Onsala, Sweden. The tall 17-year-old checks in as my 4th ranked NHL draft prospect in 2021, as of the release of this article. Currently, Edvinsson plays for Frolunda HC’s J20 team in the J20 Nationell league. However, it was the 2018-19 season where Edvinsson became a known entity, dominating the U16 circuit at 15-years-old. Playing for Frolunda HC in the U16’s, he posted a combined 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 24 games played. He got a chance with the U18’s that year, recording a combined five points in 16 games. In 2019-20, Edvinsson started with the U18’s at 16. There, he recorded a combined 20 points (four goals and 16 assists) in 19 contests. That led to his promotion to the J20 leagues with Frolunda, slotting into eight games and recording six assists, making quick work in his call-up.
So far in 2020-21, he has slotted into 14 games with the J20 squad. He has recorded a goal and five assists for six points in that span. Averaging nearly 19 minutes a game as a 17-year-old kid in an under-20 league is mighty impressive. If history repeats itself, Edvinsson could very well get a shot with the Swedish men’s league, the SHL, with Frolunda. However, just two of his six points thus far have been primary. That isn’t a great sign, but he has been able to rise to the occassion each and every year since his U16 breakout.
Simon Edvinsson Overall Game
Edvinsson’s best quality is, arguably, his offensive zone positional awareness. He sets himself up for strong opportunities from the back end by getting involved down low but not over-committing either. What he also does well is sneaking down to the circles. Once there, he can set-up his teammates to send them passes for a dangerous opportunity. Edvinsson’s skating ability adds to just how strong his offensive game is. Because of his smooth skating, he can trust himself to get low in the offensive zone and get back if there’s a turnover to defend. He also possesses a very good passing ability, using his skating to his advantage, opening up passing lanes. Then, he pairs that skating with high-end vision to set-up high-danger chances for his teammates.
Edvinsson isn’t anywhere near perfect, however. He should work on his shooting ability, specifically the power behind his shots. Second, he tries too hard to perfect a play. There are times where he tries to dangle past an opposing player for no true reason. Except to maybe get closer to the net. He does so instead of making a simple pass or shot on net. This isn’t a major issue, but if he can work on his shot and his decision-making, his offensive game could become much more dangerous.
Edvinsson’s Transition and Defense
Edvinsson stands out in his transitional game as well. I mean, come on, look at what I’ve already said. He is big, so it’s hard for the opposition to physically knock him down or off the puck. Second, he has very good hands, vision, awareness, passing abilities, and skating. He has all the tools to be successful at moving the puck. In the one game I tracked, he was directly involved in six defensive zone breakouts. Five of them were successfully cleared with possession. He also got involved in six offensive zone entries, successfully gaining entry with possession on half. He also got one into the zone by dumping it in. In 12 total transitional plays, he failed to breakout or generate a zone entry on just three occasions.
Edvinsson isn’t limited to the offensive end of the ice either. Nor is he strictly a puck-mover. He is solid defending against the rush. He does tend to puck watch and get drawn out of position, which is a problem. However, he does limit how often the opposing team gets into the zone in the first place. In the game that I tracked, he faced 13 direct rush attempts. He broke up five, allowed five uncontrolled entries and allowed just three total controlled entries. His defensive game isn’t great, but he showcases strong gap control and stick usage. He projects to be a future top-pair defenceman. But if his defensive game can improve, then he could be elite.