Hello all! Welcome back. It's time for the World Juniors 2022, part 2. Thomas Bordeleau has had an interesting history with this tournament that I think has been well documented. He's missed out on two prior opportunities because of COVID protocols, most notably during his breakout freshman campaign in 2020 where he scored 30 points in 24 games for Michigan. He did get to represent Team USA in the World Championships, but had some limited ice-time and walked away with 2 goals in 8 games as USA walked away with 4th place. Somehow though, this tournament feels more important for Bordeleau. He's skipping out on development time in favor of this tourney, something that William Eklund opted to avoid in order to theoretically improve his chances with the Sharks. Now will the decision to participate or not affect either Eklund's or Bordeleau's chances to make the Sharks? Who knows. There are so many changes to the Sharks that occurred this off-season from the top to the bottom, that the way the Sharks are going to operate is a topic for debate. But anyways, we're here to talk about Bordeleau, and to give you a little preview of his game if you're planning on watching his WJC play. Let's start with the FET.
So I don't want these posts to be carbon copies of the videos, but rather just some more nuanced discussion of them. I started off saying that I liked Bordeleau more this time around after going through his game shift by shift than I did just catching him at live action. That's very true. I think I was at some times dismayed by how Bordeleau seemed to disappear a lot this season, fading into the background of the play. It took dissecting his game to realize that he really is just a smart play connector, and sometimes this can cause his impact to fade a bit if he isn't making the highlight reel pass or carrying the puck into the zone.
An overall of 6.5 means that I believe he has the ceiling of a 2nd or a 3rd line player at the NHL level. It doesn't mean he's going to reach that by any means, just that his game, skills and progression so far lend towards that outcome. He'd be very undersized if he stays at center though, and aspects of his game don't really agree with center for him. There's definitely a discussion of what a center is supposed to do in the NHL, but let's stick with a broad definition of defensively responsible, good playmaker. So let's get into Bordeleau at wing vs. center.
Low awareness for spacing between teammates
Activation of wings up ice in transition
Size limits physical play and retrieval in defensive zone
Familiar with position/Faceoff ability
Lack of rangey shot
Lack of elite speed, doesn't have to be first man in
All players are different. Certainly a groundbreaking statement I know. However, I am concerned with Bordeleau's style of play at center rather than his actual size. Undersized centers exist, and often they're above and beyond skilled offensively, or extremely responsible defensively. Think Brayden Point for the former and Yanni Gourde for the latter. In fact, they're two of the most successful undersized (under 5'10") centers in the league. Bordeleau isn't exactly either one. He's not fast enough, nor defensively responsible enough to make the impacts those two do on a nightly basis.
That's not to say he's actively hurting his team defensively, just that he has some issues with spacing, recognition of play around him, and with physicality in his own end. He plays very individualistic. Bordeleau sees a play and thinks, "what can I do to affect this play", rather than "what are my teammates doing to affect this play". I've watched Bordeleau repeatedly double-cover and over-pursue puck carriers defensively because he didn't recognize his own teammate's pursuit of the puck. He's also got a bit of an issue with skating in front of his teammate when they're trying to break-out, causing confusion on the transition. Simply put, his off-puck game needs some work. Unfortunately on many NHL teams, the center is the general of the line. Always recognizing the play ahead of them, the players on the ice, and what can be done to move the puck forward.
Wingers have a bit more leeway. Wings can be individualistic. Their defensive impacts (traditionally, all of this has a big caveat of the "traditional" NHL line) aren't as great as a center. They're designed to get pucks, make plays around defenders, and cover the points on defense. Can Bordeleau do all those things? Yep. Pretty darn well actually. He's got excellent puck protection habits and lower body strength to push off defenders. He has shiftiness and manipulation in his puckhandling and distribution that has been fooling NCAA players for two years, and worked a few times in his short 8 game NHL debut.
This is when I get excited about Bordeleau. When he's down low, shielding pucks and making plays through defenders. I mentioned it repeatedly in the video, but I love how he baits defenders into attacking and slips passes around them. Those are the types of plays that separate good junior/NCAA playmakers from good NHL playmakers. The ability to time passes and utilize the triangle between a defender's stick and their two skates to thread pucks is hard to master. Bordeleau is working on it.
The skills he possesses I think lend more towards a winger. He does lack some elite speed and physicality for the position that I think would make him closer to a top 6 rather than a middle 6 player, but his playmaking, puck protection, and deception can really make some waves as a winger. His lack of off-puck awareness, size, and physicality don't match up for a center at the NHL level. Part of the issue I feel is that he's gotten used to playing center on a line that a transition to wing might prove difficult because of his past experiences. However, once he feels that freedom to be individualistic and to push play 1-on-1, I think he'd grow there.
Unfortunately with the Sharks lack of center depth in the pipeline and just oodles of wingers (Eklund, Coe, Gushchin, Cardwell, Lund, Wiesblatt), I think Bordeleau will continue to suit up down the middle. Now could I be wrong? Absolutely. It's certainly possible that Bordeleau becomes an effective middle-six center and cleans up a lot of the issues I've seen in his game while maximizing the aspects of the table above that lend towards the center position. I just think it's a little bit like jamming a square peg into a round hole, because the Sharks don't have any round pegs.
Now what's he doing at the WJC 2022? Suiting up at center.
Now I think although he's listed as the #1C, that Logan Cooley will probably take that spot, and Bordeleau will be on the 2nd line. That's no shame to Bords, Cooley is special. It'll be interesting to see how Team USA utilizes Bords though. He was often put out in penalty kill and clutch situations for Michigan, even above #1C Matty Beniers. Bordeleau doesn't quit on plays and when the game is on the line he's playing all out. He got dat dawg in him. He has a good, active stick on defense that can pick off passes with good anticipation.
The first real game is tonight 8/9/2022 against Germany. The lineup will be announced shortly, and I'm excited to see him play. I suspect that he might be a bit limited offensively if Team USA loads up Cooley's line and gives Bordeleau some tough minutes. Still though, I'm sure Bordeleau is excited for the opportunity, and if possible I'll try to highlight some of his plays as I see them.
Alright that's all for now. The videos are becoming much more successful at garnering viewers than before, and I'm happy you're all here. Half-wall Hockey has tons of exciting things planned for this upcoming season, and if you're interested in writing for the blog here, shoot me an email and tell me what you want to cover.