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What’s Bordeleau Got to Improve to Take Next Step?

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Credit: AP Photo/John Locher

Thomas Bordeleau’s capacity for the spectacular is obvious.

From the shootout winner, snapping the San Jose Sharks’ 11-game losing streak to the Vegas Golden Knights…

…to an innocent-looking neutral zone entry, Bordeleau is a threat to conjure up magic at any moment.

But let’s be real too: A couple HIGHLIGHT in all caps plays does not a playoff-caliber center make. That’s the standard, right? That’s where the San Jose Sharks want to get back to next year?

So let’s focus on one particular play, part of a larger sequence where Bordeleau and his linemates Noah Gregor and Rudolfs Balcers were pinned in their zone by the Golden Knights for almost a minute.

I spoke with an NHL scout — a different scout than the one who called Bordeleau’s second NHL game “average overall” — who pointed out probably the rookie’s biggest mistake in this sequence:

Bordeleau (23) makes a blind backhand rim, presumably for Balcers (92), that’s easily picked off by William Karlsson (71).

“He shouldn’t be backhand rimming that one. He had time. No shoulder check to see if he had time,” the scout told San Jose Hockey Now, suggesting that Bordeleau also move his feet with the puck there too.

It looked like Balcers hesitated too, unsure if his centerman was going to try a direct pass or the indirect rim.

“No way for Balcers to know,” the scout observed. “It’s a little bit of panic, but also not wanting to do the little things to make the correct play.”

Bordeleau is also just 20, you’ll say. It’s just his fifth NHL game, you’ll say. And you’re 100 percent right.

But it’s also a reminder, if you’re penciling Bordeleau into your San Jose Sharks’ line-up for next year, that he’s got a lot to learn before he’s a playoff-caliber pivot.

And hey, he might pick it up by next season too. Head coach Bob Boughner has been complimentary of Bordeleau’s ability to learn fast.

“These are all young mistakes,” the scout noted. “The important thing to note is that most players get away with these types of things in juniors and college because they are such important players offensively. He will have to learn more of these details and that he has to do them to stay in the line-up.”

For what it’s worth, Bordeleau seems to understand that.

“You gotta be dialed every single second you’re on the ice, every shift,” he said of what he learned from the playoff-like atmosphere and competition last night. “As soon as you make a little mistake, they’re coming right at your throat.”

I want to add too, by and large, I’ve been impressed by Bordeleau. He’s 20, and he’s hanging in an elevated role in the best league in the world. I don’t think the San Jose Sharks could ask for more of their 2020 second-round pick’s NHL debut.

I’ve pointed out the highs and the lows – I’ve also liked some of the in-between’s too.

I’ve noticed this from Bordeleau’s AHL debut – I love the 20-year-old taking charge here and directing traffic.

Bordeleau Shines With 3 Assists in Pro Debut

Vegas has three men high here, pulling Bordeleau, the center who would usually be down low in the zone, up high too. Defenseman Zach Whitecloud (2) would usually be Gregor’s (73) responsibility, but Gregor switches on Mark Stone (61) and the rookie takes Whitecloud.

It takes a lot of confidence, I think, for a 20-year-old right out of college to be so assertive on the ice with more experienced teammates. Confidence, of course, seems to be something that Bordeleau has no shortage of.

I wrote about this after Bordeleau’s NHL debut – I love how he’s always sending out different messages to deceive the defense.

Bordeleau’s Hockey IQ Stands Out in NHL Debut

Here, the high leg kick as he’s coming down the slot suggests a move instead of the shot that he takes. Alex Pietrangelo (7), one of the league’s best defensemen, doesn’t bite, but I like that Bordeleau is constantly trying to confuse the opposition.

“He looks confident and is obviously smart and skilled,” the scout acknowledged. “But he has a ways to go before he’s a consistent contributor. He should be fine.”

We spoke with San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner about that “ways to go” recently.

“I think he’s starting to understand the league a little more. It’s only been a few games, but I think he’s starting to bide his time a little bit and understand when he’s going to make a play and when he can hold on to it. That comes with experience,” Boughner said. “He’s a smart guy, he’s a quick learner.”

I showed, in the first clip, where Bordeleau still needs to learn this – but here’s another clip, from the rookie’s third NHL contest, where he bides that time.

Nick Leddy (4) is on him, but Bordeleau, instead of rimming it low, which is perfectly safe but risks a turnover, holds on until Nicolas Meloche (53) can gain the zone, guaranteeing continued San Jose puck possession.

If anything, I would just say don’t overhype Bordeleau, don’t expect him to be something that he’s not. I know that’s easy to do because he’s showing flat-out flashes of brilliance, and the Sharks, three years out of the playoffs and running, need all the hope that they can get.

But Bordeleau’s got a lot of work to do this summer.

“[He’s got to get] bigger and stronger. His skills are NHL-level, there’s no doubt about that,” Boughner said. “Sometimes, these kids just need some time off to really concentrate on off-ice stuff and training their body and getting bigger and stronger. I think that’s his biggest thing.”

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