The entry-level slide is a rather well-known concept now in the salary cap world. Otherwise known as the ’nine-game rule’, it permits teams to conserve years on an 18- or 19-year-old player’s entry-level contract by deferring or sliding the start of the contract by a season (or two), provided they don’t play nine games or less at the NHL level in a season.
It’s not something often thought about with players of European origin, as it’s rather uncommon for a European-based player to make a team out of camp at this age unless fully NHL-ready. But the San Jose Sharks took a chance this year on 2020 draft selection William Eklund, and it’s largely paid off. As the team’s roared off to a 4-1-0 start, they’ve largely been propelled by the competence of their rookie class — including Eklund. With three assists in four games, Eklund’s showing flashes of potential and already showing the value the Sharks got with a seventh-overall selection.
Yet Eklund was scratched today for their first loss of the season against the Boston Bruins, allowing Alexander Barabanov to draw back into the lineup. Eklund’s spent the season playing on a line with Tomas Hertl and Rudolfs Balcers, but sits as a -3 with none of his points coming at even strength.
There’s no doubt that Eklund was a slam-dunk selection, but if he can’t stick in the lineup, it would be the wiser move to loan him back to his native Sweden without burning the first year of his contract. The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz notes that the team is likely to take as long as possible before making that choice, giving Eklund every chance to prove that he can stay in the lineup at the NHL level this season. But the team, understandably, also doesn’t want him spending too much time in the press box, especially after he impressed with 23 points in 40 SHL games last season with Djurgardens IF.
Regardless, the Sharks can dress Eklund in five more games before being able to loan him back to Sweden without burning a season on his entry-level deal. For a team that now looks to be on the rise sooner rather than later, it could be a choice with long-term ramifications in terms of his second contract.