SAN JOSE – William Eklund was determined to make the San Jose Sharks roster out of training camp this year, even though he was only about six months removed from having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
After an impressive training camp in which he improved with each passing day, Eklund reached his goal, as the Swedish-born forward on Monday was named a part of the Sharks’ 23-man opening night roster.
“It means a lot. I worked (hard) for this,” Eklund said. “Now my job is to be here all year. So my focus is on that.”
It just so happens that the Sharks’ season-opening game on Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights also falls on Eklund’s 21st birthday. He said his parents will likely be in attendance for the game at SAP Center.
“It’s my birthday and it’s opening night,” said Eklund, who was drafted seventh overall by the Sharks 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 besides Eklund, Henry Thrun and center Thomas Bordeleau will also be with the team for the start of the season.
Sharks captain Logan Couture, fellow forward Mitchell Russell, and defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk are all considered injured non-roster players. Defenseman Jacob MacDonald and Radim Simek will start the season on injured reserve, and their absences created roster spots for other defensemen like Thrun and Ty Emberson.
When the injured players are healthy again, it could mean that Thrun and Bordeleau will be assigned to the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.
For now, though, the Sharks will start the season with three players on entry-level contracts. Last year, after they opened the season with two games in Europe, the Sharks didn’t have any such players.
“This is definitely a little bit different than last year,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “Last year, we pretty much knew what we were going to look like in a lot of ways from a contract standpoint. But this year, there is a lot more opportunity for people, there’s more competition.
“These guys are here because they’ve earned it. They’re not here because they’re prospects or we’re forcing young players into our lineup. They have to play their way into the lineup and that’s kind of what has happened.”
For roster spots, Eklund and Bordeleau beat out fellow forwards Jacob Peterson, Oskar Lindblom, and Ryan Carpenter, who were placed on waivers on Friday. They all cleared waivers the next day and practiced with the Barracuda on Monday.
“Personally, I know what I can bring in a game and I know I’m ready for the NHL,” Bordeleau said. “So it’s just time to, game after game, just go out there and show it.”
Eklund had shoulder surgery on March 30 after he was injured in a Barracuda game eight days earlier against Colorado. He came back to San Jose this summer determined to start the season in the NHL. Last season, after he and Bordeleau went to Europe and watched the Sharks play two regular-season games against the Nashville Predators in Prague, they were returned to the Barracuda.
Eklund, though, didn’t give the Sharks a chance to do the same thing this year. He had a goal and two assists in four preseason games and was noticeable just about every time he was on the ice. He also killed penalties and seemed to form some chemistry with Luke Kunin and Mikael Granlund in the Sharks’ final preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday.
Eklund, Kunin, and Granlund practiced on a line together on Monday.
“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,” Eklund 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 Friday and was back on the ice Monday morning. He is considered an injured non-roster player because he failed his physical and was never added to the active roster. He can be activated whenever he’s healthy enough to play, although his timeline for a return remains unclear.
Okhotiuk dressed for two preseason games but can be considered an injured non-roster player because he was never on the Sharks’ roster after last season’s trade deadline. Okhotiuk, who requires waivers to be sent down to the AHL, came to San Jose in the Timo Meier trade but was injured and didn’t play for either the Sharks or Barracuda last season.
Russell also did not play for the Sharks last season.
Simek and MacDonald were both injured in the preseason. MacDonald skated briefly Monday but Simek hasn’t skated since he was hurt in a Sept. 27 game against Anaheim.
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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