📝 by Patrick Williams
This is what National Hockey League general managers were looking for when the Calder Cup Playoffs expanded to 23 teams last season.
High-pressure, late-season games, one after the next after the next, all in a bid to put their prospects through the toughest of trials.
That situation is what faces San Jose Barracuda rookie forward Thomas Bordeleau and his teammates right now. San Jose is five points behind Tucson for the nearest available playoff spot in the Pacific Division; the Roadrunners are in San Diego tonight, which will leave the Barracuda with a game in hand going into the weekend.
With eight games remaining, starting with a two-game visit to the Texas Stars on Friday and Saturday, that five-point gap is more than surmountable. Just look at the 2017-18 Barracuda: 10 points back with six games to go, San Jose won all six to qualify for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.
Bordeleau will be counted on for production on a team where four of the top five scorers this season are rookies. The Barracuda are without forwards Andrew Agozzino, Martin Kaut, Jacob Peterson and Jeffrey Viel — all on recall to the parent Sharks — and William Eklund missed last weekend’s games due to injury.
Time is dwindling, and the Barracuda will need Bordeleau to play his best hockey of the season. That, of course, is exactly what Sharks general manager Mike Grier and his management staff want to see. How will Bordeleau, a second-round pick from the 2020 NHL Draft, handle this stretch drive?
Producing points is only one part of a prospect’s development, but with the Barracuda ranked 28th in the league in scoring at 2.83 goals per game, every bit of offense is — and will be — needed. Bordeleau, who represented San Jose at the AHL All-Star Classic in February, is tied for 10th in rookie scoring at 41 points (22 goals, 19 assists) through 64 games. He snapped a 10-game drought with goals in both of San Jose’s games against Bakersfield last weekend.
Bordeleau turned pro late last season after two standout campaigns at the University of Michigan, where he was named the Big Ten conference’s rookie of the year in 2020-21. And the Bordeleau family has deep AHL roots: Thomas’s father, Sebastien, spent parts of five seasons in the AHL in addition to his 251 NHL games, and his grandfather, Paulin, coached the Fredericton Canadiens for seven seasons in the 1990’s.
“They know me,” Bordeleau said of his father and grandfather. “They know I’m a competitor, and I always want to play with the best. Just have fun, put your head down, work on what you’ve got to work on, and when that call happens, you’ll be ready.”
Bordeleau is one of 13 rookies on the San Jose roster at this moment, and that youthful environment has made for an easy adjustment to playing pro. Bordeleau has also had a chance at different points to skate alongside Eklund, the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and someone who is also considered a massive part of the Sharks’ future.
“I’m sure he probably [can] say the same thing for me,” Bordeleau said of Eklund. “He usually knows what I’m about to do before I do it.”
Bordeleau also had a chance to play for Rochester Americans head coach Seth Appert when the pair were with the United States National Team Development Program for two seasons.
“He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met in my life,” Bordeleau told TheAHL.com in January. “He was definitely more than a coach to me. It’s hard to put into words what he did for me, what he means to me.
“My time with him really, really helped me a long way. I think he definitely changed the player I am today. He made me a lot more complete, a lot more aware. He was definitely more than a coach to me. He taught me how to put my head and grind.”
Now Barracuda head coach John McCarthy and his staff have a chance to work with Bordeleau daily.
“He has a mature approach to the game,” McCarthy said earlier this season. “He wants to get better. He likes watching video. He’ll spend the time in the gym. He’ll spend the time on the ice.
“As with all prospects, it’s consistency. But he’s shown that high-end offensive instinct.”
His first pro season has presented Bordeleau with more opportunities for learning. And nothing can accelerate development like the late-season brand of hockey.
“It’s time to play games and just perfect what I can perfect.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.