Eklund receives E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence

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William Eklund, a left wing for Djurgarden in the Swedish Hockey League, received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, the NHL announced Monday.

Eklund (5-foot-10, 176 pounds) is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters for the 2021 NHL Draft, which will be held July 23-24. He was named SHL rookie of the year after he scored 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists), including two power-play goal and three game-winning goals, in 40 games.

Eklund, presented the award by former NHL forward Michael Holmqvist at his home in Sweden on Sunday, overcame much adversity this season, including an emergency appendectomy and a positive COVID-19 test.

“This is such a huge honor and I’m in shock right now,” Eklund said Sunday. “I’m so happy for this award.”

Eklund told NHL.com he’s interviewed with 20 NHL teams, including the expansion Seattle Kraken, who hold the No. 2 pick in the first round, as well as the Anaheim Ducks (No. 3), New Jersey Devils (No. 4), and Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 5). He’s scheduled to interview with the Buffalo Sabres, who hold the No. 1 selection, on Wednesday.

The first round of the NHL Draft is July 23. Rounds 2-7 are July 24.

“Eklund played a big role on Djurgarden, contributing offensively and competed consistently with his skills and attributes as both playmaker and scorer … he always plays with a will to win,” director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “During the 2020-21 season he continued to display his high level of play, athleticism and character despite setbacks from an emergency appendectomy, a positive COVID-19 test that prevented him from representing his country at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and an injury during an exhibition game that prevented him from participating at the IIHF World Championship.

“He’s persevered through the school of hard knocks this year, but he’s a player that’s not going to be denied, which will make it a hard decision to go by him in the draft.”

The award, presented by NHL Central Scouting, is in honor of McGuire, who served as director of Central Scouting from 2005 until he died of cancer April 7, 2011. It’s given to the candidate who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.

NHL Central Scouting picked the E.J. McGuire Award winner in May during their final meeting to determine the top players in North America and Europe.

“I think Eklund has been better this year than Lucas Raymond (Detroit Red Wings, No. 4, 2020 NHL Draft) and Alexander Holtz (New Jersey Devils, No. 7, 2020) were last year,” said Sweden National Junior Team coach Tomas Monten. “William is a good skater, can move the puck, make plays. He has an OK shot but can play center or wing. He’s strong on the puck, good at the boards and can carry the puck.

“What I like most is his work ethic; he’ll always go full speed. He’ll block shots with his head if he had to, so you can us him in a top-six role, the fourth line, penalty kill and the power play.”

Eklund averaged 15:29 of ice time per game this season, and played mostly on a line with Holtz. He said that experience helped him grow as a player.

“It’s always fun to play with your best friend (Holtz), so we tried to teach each other some things,” Eklund said. “He’s obviously a fantastic shooter so I try to watch and learn to become better. He’s easy to play with because he’s so skilled and knows where to be to get those high-scoring chances.”

Holtz signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Devils on April 19 and is expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

“He’s a fantastic player with amazing playmaking ability and hockey sense,” Holtz said of Eklund. “He battles hard all the time, is very creative, and he’s starting to get a really good shot too.”

Djurgarden CEO Thomas Kraft said he sees flashes of Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg and former NHL forward Henrik Zetterberg in Eklund.

“William brought something extraordinary to our team on the ice every night,” Kraft said. “He can create intelligent plays on the rush, cover the puck tight along the boards and is very effective on the cycle. He can make a shifty move at any time and is always a real threat around the net.

“He has that unique ability to make a difference and win games, which obviously is a great asset for a player his, or any age, for that matter.”

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