Bordeleau's hockey IQ stands out in NHL debut with Sharks


Thomas Bordeleau’s NHL debut was a bright spot in the Sharks’ 10th straight defeat Sunday night.

San Jose’s 2020 second-round draft pick, just out of Michigan, notched his first NHL point, an assist, in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild.

However, it wasn’t enough to keep the franchise from its longest losing streak since they dropped 10 straight from Nov. 5 to Nov. 30, 2005. If they lose to Columbus this Tuesday, it will be the Sharks’ longest losing streak since their expansion era. In their first two years in the league, San Jose had losing streaks of 17 and 13 three times.

But back to the future: What stood out about Bordeleau on Sunday night? What might be real about the top San Jose Sharks prospect? 

My main takeaway: The 20-year-old’s hockey IQ is high.

You could see this even on the plays that didn’t work. 

As Bordeleau (23) approaches the puck behind the net – it’s hard to see, but his eyes are trained on right winger Noah Gregor (73). But that’s not where he’s going with the puck.

He rims it instead to left winger Rudolfs Balcers (92), but there’s too much zip – Marcus Foligno (17) steps in front of Balcers, touches the puck to Jared Spurgeon (46), Minnesota goal.

It’s a Bordeleau turnover, but it’s also a very intelligent play that just wasn’t executed perfectly.

Bordeleau doesn’t like his options coming up the ice at 4-on-4, so he slows it down at center ice, and backhands it to trailer Ryan Merkley (6).

Two things: Bordeleau does his best to create time and space for his teammates, he actually skates at Ryan Hartman (38) and Frederick Gaudreau (89). Two Wild on him means there’s an open teammate.

That’s weak side trailer Merkley. But again, the pass is just off. A softer touch, a puck that Merkley can skate into, and the Sharks would’ve been in business.

Again, it didn’t work, but it’s high-level hockey thinking.

“No lack of confidence at all tonight,” Gregor said of his linemate Bordeleau. “He played his game.”
Of course, there are the plays that did work.

Bordeleau dumps it in and Marc-Andre Fleury drops it off for Alex Goligoski (47). Bordeleau, however, anticipates the Goligoski rim.

Bordeleau appears to sell a pass to the point – Kirill Kaprizov (97) seals the wall – but the centerman flicks it to a more-open Balcers. This time, Balcers gets it to Brent Burns (88) at the point, and Gregor is able to capitalize.

“I thought that line was great. I thought that was the best game that Rudy and Gregor have played together in a long time. And I think Thomas had a big hand in that,” Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said of the Balcers-Bordeleau-Gregor trio. “He slows the game down. Makes high-end skill plays. Those two guys are north-south players, up-and-down wingers, and I thought they would benefit from playing together.”

Bordeleau was consistently deceptive last night, living up to USA Hockey National Team Development Program coach Nick Fohr’s billing on Locked On Sharks in Oct. 2020: “With Thomas, where you really see it, when you see the intelligence [is] when he gets the puck on his stick, his ability to manipulate the other team, manipulate the defender. 

“For example, on the power play, when he has the puck on his tape, the way he postures the puck, the way he holds the puck on his stick, the way he postures his body, will tell one story to the defender, to get the defender to move. [That] opens up the play he really wants to make.

“That’s a really, really, really hard skill. It takes a lot of hockey intelligence to do that, to understand the messages you’re sending to a defender. It’s a really elite trait of his.”

Bordeleau is always selling.

That isn't to say you should buy everything about the 5-foot-9 center’s NHL debut.

This was Bordeleau’s first NHL touch:    

I saw this in Bordeleau’s first AHL contest too: He’ll need to learn what he can and can’t do at the pro level. That was an ill-advised pass to Balcers in a dangerous area.

Boughner also noted: “There's still some defensive stuff to sort out.”

Coming off the wall, Kevin Fiala (22) is Bordeleau’s man.

Regardless, Bordeleau’s teammates were impressed by the newest Sharks player.

“He fared a lot better than I did,” Gregor quipped, comparing his NHL debut with Bordeleau’s. “I looked like I had a lot more nerves than he did.”

Gregor played just 7:31 and went scoreless in his NHL debut on Oct. 19, 2019. Bordeleau, in addition to his assist, skated 13:14.

"I felt alright. I could have made better plays and stuff like that,” Bordeleau said. “But it was good to get the nerves out of the way. Obviously, a special moment for me, my family. I just wish we could have gotten the win tonight."

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