San Jose Sharks prospect earns early birthday present with NHL roster spot

NHL: William Eklund was determined to make the San Jose Sharks roster out of training camp this year

SAN JOSE, Calif. – William Eklund was determined to make the San Jose Sharks roster out of training camp this year, despite the fact that he had only recently undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Eklund achieved his goal after an impressive training camp in which he improved with each passing day, as the Swedish-born forward was named to the Sharks’ 23-man opening night roster on Monday.

“It means a lot to me. “I worked (very) hard for this,” Eklund explained. “My job now is to stay here all year.” So that’s where my attention is.”

The Sharks’ season opener against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday also happens to be Eklund’s 21st birthday. He stated that his parents will most likely attend the game at SAP Center.

“It’s my birthday, and it’s opening night,” said Eklund, the Sharks’ seventh-round pick in 2021. “So, it’s a good day.”

NHL teams had to submit their salary-cap-compliant rosters of 23 players or less by 2 p.m. (PDT) on Monday, and Eklund will be joined by Henry Thrun and center Thomas Bordeleau for the start of the season.

Sharks captain Logan Couture, forward Mitchell Russell, and defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk are all on the injured list. Defensemen Jacob MacDonald and Radim Simek will begin the season on injured reserve, freeing up roster spots for others such as Thrun and Ty Emberson.

When the injured players return to the ice, Thrun and Bordeleau may be assigned to the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

However, for the time being, the Sharks will begin the season with three players on entry-level contracts. The Sharks didn’t have any such players last year, after starting the season with two games in Europe.

“This is definitely a little bit different than last year,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “From a contract standpoint, we pretty much knew what we were going to look like last year.” However, there is a lot more opportunity for people this year, as well as more competition.

“These guys have earned their place here. They’re not here because they’re prospects or because we’re cramming in young players. They have to work their way into the lineup, which is exactly what has happened.”

Eklund and Bordeleau beat out fellow forwards Jacob Peterson, Oskar Lindblom, and Ryan Carpenter for roster spots after they were placed on waivers on Friday. The next day, they all cleared waivers and practiced with the Barracuda.

“Personally, I know what I can bring in a game and I know I’m ready for the NHL,” Bordeleau said in an interview. “So it’s just time to, game after game, just go out there and show it.”

Eklund underwent shoulder surgery on March 30 after being injured in a Barracuda game against Colorado eight days earlier. This summer, he returned to San Jose determined to begin the season in the NHL. Last season, he and Bordeleau were returned to the Barracuda after traveling to Europe to watch the Sharks play two regular-season games against the Nashville Predators in Prague.

Eklund, on the other hand, did not give the Sharks the same opportunity this year. In four preseason games, he had a goal and two assists and was noticeable almost every time he was on the ice. In the Sharks’ final preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday, he also killed penalties and appeared to form some chemistry with Luke Kunin and Mikael Granlund.

On Monday, Eklund, Kunin, and Granlund worked on a line together.

“Coming off an injury, I knew it would be tough sometimes, mentally and stuff, and how I would go into (camp), not having the normal offseason I’m used to,” he said. “For me to get in here and get better and better every day, That’s it’s huge for me because I feel like every game went better and my confidence went up.”

“The last game, I thought I played my best game, so that’s a good thing.”

Couture skated for the first time on Friday and returned to the ice on Monday. Because he failed his physical and was never added to the active roster, he is classified as an injured non-roster player. He can be activated whenever he is healthy enough to play, though his return date is unknown.

Okhotiuk appeared in two preseason games but is considered an injured non-roster player because he was never on the Sharks’ roster after the trade deadline last season. Okhotiuk, who must clear waivers before being sent to the AHL, was acquired in the Timo Meier trade but was injured and did not play for either the Sharks or the Barracuda last season.

Russell did not play for the Sharks last season either.

Both Simek and MacDonald were injured during the preseason. MacDonald skated briefly on Monday, but Simek hasn’t skated since being injured in a game against Anaheim on September 27.

San Jose Sharks season-opening 23-man roster

FORWARDS (13):  Alexander Barabanov, Thomas Bordeleau, Anthony Duclair, William Eklund, Mikael Granlund, Tomáš Hertl, Mike Hoffman, Luke Kunin, Kevin Labanc, Givani Smith, Nico Sturm, Filip Zadina, Fabian Zetterlund.

DEFENSEMEN (8): Matt Benning, Kyle Burroughs, Ty Emberson, Mario Ferraro, Nikolai Knyzhov, Jan Rutta, Henry Thrun, Marc-Édouard Vlasic.

GOALTENDERS (2): Mackenzie Blackwood, Kaapo Kähkönen.

Injured Non-Roster: Logan Couture, Nikita Okhotiuk, Mitchell Russell.

Injured Reserve: Jacob MacDonald, Radim Šimek.

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