For anyone who has followed San Jose Sharks drafts in recent years and the pain they had to endure to collect some of those picks, a forward line coach David Quinn trotted out against the Vegas Golden Knights in his team’s penultimate preseason game was all too noticeable.
Thomas Bordeleau was at center, flanked by William Eklund on his left and Quentin Musty on the right.
One second-round draft pick from three years ago in the middle with more recent first-round selections on either side of him.
It was a tantalizing glimpse of a group of forwards that could possibly form the foundation for whenever the Sharks are once again legitimately able to compete with the Golden Knights, who will lift their first Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters of T-Mobile Arena later this month.
But Bordeleau, and especially Eklund, aren’t thinking long-term. They want to be in the NHL this season, starting with the Sharks’ home opener on Oct. 12 against this same Vegas team.
They helped their case with a highlight-reel goal and an overall strong effort Tuesday night, part of a 2-0 preseason win by the Sharks over the Golden Knights.
“Well, they’re still (in camp), so that certainly bodes well for them,” Quinn said of Bordeleau and Eklund’s chances of cracking the roster. “They’re trending in the right direction.”
Possessing the puck below Vegas’ goal line, Eklund darted one way toward the sideboards with a Golden Knights defender right on him before he quickly cut back. Then, just before he got all the way behind the Vegas net, he spun around and sent a nifty pass right to Bordeleau, who one-timed it past Adin Hill for a 1-0 Sharks lead at the 6:51 mark of the second period.
Jacob MacDonald also scored a second-period goal for the Sharks on a power play and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen made 18 saves, including several of the dazzling variety, to improve to 2-0 in the preseason.
“I’ve seen him do this move a couple of times. I actually thought he was gonna do it on the spin before that,” Bordeleau said of Eklund’s play. “But he ended up spinning again and then I kind of figured it was coming, so I was trying to get ready. It was a nice play by him.”
Eklund was all over the ice in the early going, confident with the puck, and noticeable on several shifts. Granted, a fair number of the players the Golden Knights dressed on Tuesday won’t be in the NHL this time next week. But Eklund still showed why the Sharks made him the seventh overall selection in 2021.
With his performance Tuesday, Eklund was able to build on the performance he had Saturday in the Sharks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings. While several other Sharks forwards had lackluster performances, at least in Quinn’s eyes, Eklund stood out with his energy and has improved in camp with each passing day.
“I thought this was his best game, his most complete game,” Quinn said of Eklund, who had 17:55 of ice time, including 3:13 on the penalty kill, “and he certainly looked a lot like he did last year. We’re really happy for him.”
Quinn also liked what he saw from Bordeleau and defenseman Henry Thrun, another player who could be a part of the Sharks’ blue line for years to come.
On Musty, who figures to be on his way back to Sudbury of the OHL before long, Quinn said, “Very, very impressed. I thought he had a lot of poise and played at a good pace. There was a lot to like about him.”
This summer, Sharks general manager Mike Grier said young guys, “have to take a job. We’re not going to give them a job because of their prospect pedigree or where they were drafted. They need to come to camp and take the job away from the veteran, and the veteran’s got to do his best to hold on to the job.”
Maybe that time has arrived as it seems like with his play in recent days, Eklund has put the ball into the court of Sharks’ management to make a hard decision. San Jose has one more preseason game on Thursday in Salt Lake City against the Los Angeles Kings, and another practice or two before it has to get down to an NHL-mandated 23-man roster by Oct. 9.
With Sharks’ Couture out for now, his potential replacement says he’s ready for a big role
San Jose Sharks coach strikes realistic tone on Couture’s availability for season-opener
Does play of Sharks prospect help alleviate concerns about Timo Meier trade?
San Jose Sharks’ first round pick strengthens case to crack NHL roster out of camp
San Jose Sharks get encouraging news on captain’s health
Let’s be honest: Expectations are low for the Sharks this season, with oddsmakers saying the team will finish seventh or eighth in the Pacific Division. To boot, local enthusiasm for the team after four straight seasons without a playoff appearance might be at an all-time low. Small crowd sizes during the team’s three home preseason games will attest to that.
Can a player like Eklund single-handedly generate more buzz in the market? Perhaps not by himself, and such a process might take years anyway.
But with forwards Eklund, Bordeleau, and Musty, drafted 26th overall earlier this year, and Thrun confidently eating up minutes on the back end, Sharks fans, for the first time in a while, can have some optimism about the future.
Musty is 18, Bordeleau is 21, Eklund turns 21 next Thursday and Thrun is 22.
It’ll take some time for the Sharks, maybe another two or three years, but the pieces are starting to be put in place.