Bordeleau, Eklund trusting instincts in San Jose

Photo: Andreea Cardani/SJ Barracuda

📝 by Lizz Child | AHL On The Beat

The 2022-23 San Jose Barracuda feature a roster heavy with first-year professionals, a group that the San Jose Sharks are hoping to see succeed and continue to grow together.

Eyes have specifically been on the duo of Thomas Bordeleau and William Eklund throughout the first half of the season, and they have certainly not disappointed. The rookies are tied for the team lead in points (27), with Bordeleau leading in goals (17) and Eklund tied for first in assists (16).

Both players spent time with the Sharks in the 2021-22 season, with Eklund appearing in nine games at the start of the season and Bordeleau seeing eight games at the end.

After getting that taste of the NHL, and traveling with the Sharks to Berlin and Prague for the NHL’s Global Series in October, Bordeleau says he was a little anxious when the team returned to San Jose and he was assigned to the Barracuda. While all he wanted to do was get the call back up, he has since settled into growing and developing his game, and good things began to happen.

After starting the season with four goals in five games, the 21-year-old Bordeleau was held without a point for seven games before things began to turn around. He picked up five points in a three-game span, including a hat trick against the Tucson Roadrunners on Nov. 19, and has not been held off the scoresheet for more than two consecutive games since that drought. His 17 goals lead all AHL rookies.

Another thing that has helped Bordeleau hit his stride this season? The chemistry he is building with Eklund, who has said that the first half of the season has been a “step in the right direction” for his own development.

Part of that right direction is due to the way the team has grown closer while also maintaining a competitive environment among one another. Long road trips — specifically over U.S. Thanksgiving and right after the new year — have given the team plenty of time to build relationships and cultivate a stronger team environment.

For the 20-year-old Eklund, his first full season living and playing in North America is quite a change and has helped him to mature off the ice, something he feels has translated to his game. The maturity has allowed him a little more confidence to play a more physical game and rely on his instincts. Of course, after his first AHL fight on Jan. 11 against Glenn Gawdin of the San Diego Gulls, Eklund’s willingness to play a more physical game is not in question.

That physicality, Eklund said, is something that he wanted to add to his game, to help him be more comfortable with not backing down from situations and playing a more responsible game overall.

While December saw Eklund feeding beautiful power-play passes that Bordeleau finished with one-timer rockets from the faceoff dot, January has seen the roles reverse. Eklund noted that while the power play is built for either one of the two to be available for the shot, it is mostly instinct that has allowed them to adapt in the moment and find success.

That instinct has been noticeable as the year has gone on is that the pair have started to have more fun with and relax both as individuals off the ice and when they play together.

Bordeleau and Eklund are just two of the highly touted first-year pros currently playing with the Barracuda and the entire group has made the transition to professional hockey a little bit easier for each other.

“You don’t have to move in [with] a full family of a guy on your team, that has like two kids and a wife, and you feel like you’re just intruding,” Bordeleau said. “There are a lot of young guys, and I think that’s the biggest thing. [We’re] just building those bonds off the ice and it makes it so much more fun just coming to the rink and going to work.”

While it may be wishful thinking that all of the Barracuda rookies — a group that also includes Danil Gushchin, Tristen Robins, Ozzy Wiesblatt and others — will join the NHL club together and remain as a group for years to come, the experience is certainly working out for the players.

Until the day comes when they get the call to join the Sharks full time, one thing is for certain: Bordeleau and Eklund will continue to draw attention no matter where they play. For now, all of us get to enjoy that they wear a Barracuda crest.