Against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks had Thomas Bordeleau was at center, flanked by William Eklund on his left and Quentin Musty on the right.
Anyone who has followed the San Jose Sharks drafts in recent years and the hardships they had to endure to obtain some of those picks will recognize the forward line coach David Quinn fielded against the Vegas Golden Knights in his team’s penultimate preseason game.
Thomas Bordeleau was in the center, flanked on the left by William Eklund and on the right by Quentin Musty.
In the middle is a third-round draft pick from three years ago, with more recent first-round picks on either side of him.
It was a tantalizing glimpse of a forward group that could potentially form the foundation for when the Sharks are legitimately able to compete with the Golden Knights, who will hoist their first Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters of T-Mobile Arena later this month.
Bordeleau, and particularly Eklund, aren’t thinking long term. They want to be in the NHL this season, beginning with the Sharks’ home opener against the same Vegas team on Oct. 12.
They aided their case with a highlight-reel goal and an overall strong performance in the Sharks’ 2-0 preseason win over the Golden Knights on Tuesday night.
“Well, they’re still (in camp), so that certainly bodes well for them,” Quinn said of Bordeleau and Eklund’s chances. “They’re trending in the right direction.”
With the puck below the Vegas goal line, Eklund darted one way toward the sideboards with a Golden Knights defender on him before cutting back. Then, just as he was about to get all the way behind the Vegas net, he turned around and sent a nice pass right to Bordeleau, who one-timed it past Adin Hill for a 1-0 Sharks lead at 6:51 of the second period.
The Sharks’ Jacob MacDonald also scored on a power play in the second period, and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen made 18 saves, including several spectacular ones, to improve to 2-0 in the preseason.
“I’ve seen him perform this move a few times. “I actually thought he’d do it on the spin before that,” Bordeleau said of Eklund’s performance. “But he ended up spinning again, and I kind of figured it was coming, so I tried to prepare.” He made an excellent play.”
In the early going, Eklund was all over the ice, confident with the puck and noticeable on several shifts. To be sure, many of the Golden Knights’ players on Tuesday will not be in the NHL by next week. Nonetheless, Eklund demonstrated why the Sharks selected him seventh overall in 2021.
Eklund’s performance on Tuesday allowed him to build on his performance in the Sharks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. While several other Sharks forwards had underwhelming performances, Eklund stood out with his energy and has improved in camp with each passing day, according to Quinn.
“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. We’re overjoyed for him.”
Quinn also liked what he saw from Bordeleau and defenseman Henry Thrun, who could be a long-term fixture on the Sharks’ blue line.
Quinn said of Musty, who is expected to return to the OHL’s Sudbury soon, “Very, very impressed.” He had a lot of poise and played at a good pace, in my opinion. He had a lot of good qualities.”
This summer, Sharks general manager Mike Grier stated that young players “need to get a job.” We will not hire them based on their prospect pedigree or where they were drafted. They must come to camp and take the veteran’s job, and the veteran must do everything in his power to keep the job.”
Perhaps that time has come, as it appears that Eklund’s recent play has placed the ball in the hands of Sharks management to make a difficult decision. San Jose has one more preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday in Salt Lake City, as well as another practice or two, before it must reduce its roster to an NHL-mandated 23-man roster by Oct. 9.
Let’s be honest: The Sharks are expected to finish seventh or eighth in the Pacific Division this season, according to oddsmakers. Furthermore, after four seasons without a playoff appearance, local enthusiasm for the team may be at an all-time low. Small crowds will attest to this during the team’s three home preseason games.
Can a player like Eklund generate more market buzz on his own? Perhaps not on his own, and such a process could take years in any case.
But, with forwards Eklund, Bordeleau, and Musty, who were drafted 26th overall earlier this year, and Thrun confidently eating up minutes on the back end, Sharks fans can be optimistic about the future for the first time in a long time.
Musty is 18, Bordeleau is 21, Eklund will turn 21 on Thursday, and Thrun will be 22.
The Sharks will need some time, perhaps another two or three years, but the pieces are beginning to fall into place.