San Jose Sharks Need to Give Bordeleau and Eklund a Chance

The San Jose Sharks have only given a single rookie NHL game time this season, and it’s time for that to change entering the new year. They’re near the bottom of the standings, and their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, isn’t doing much better for themselves. If the Barracuda were in the fight for a playoff push, it would make sense to leave top prospects down there in order to get them more experience in big games. Instead, players like William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau, who could legitimately help the NHL team, are playing on a losing team in a weaker league. It’s time to play the kids and build excitement around the next generation of Sharks hockey.

Looking Toward the Future

The Sharks are certainly in the running for the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, and it appears that although they won’t publicly admit it, this season is already lost. Soon players like Nick Bonino, Matt Nieto, James Reimer and possibly others will be on the way out as the trade deadline approaches (from ‘Erik Karlsson says trade talk surrounding himself, others can be a good thing,’ Mercury News, Nov. 1, 2022). Teams are a bit skeptical to make moves at this point due to the salary cap constraints, but none of these players have that big of a cap hit, which makes it easier to do business as soon as possible. Clearing out these players will not only bring in more assets to help the team build toward the future, but it will also create opportunities. So far this season, when roster spots have opened up due to injury or other unforeseen circumstances, the chances have been given to older fringe players who have no real likelihood of sticking in the NHL long-term, like CJ Seuss and Jeffrey Viel.

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Whenever a more permanent roster spot opens up due to a trade, the Sharks should not waste it on a player who is not in their plans for the future. They need to give the opportunity to players like Eklund and Bordeleau, who have played very well at the AHL level. The duo currently sit second and third in points on the Barracuda with 21 and 20, respectively, through 29 games. The Sharks are currently in the bottom third of the league in goals for per game, and these two would certainly help them improve in that regard.

Thomas Bordeleau, Michigan Wolverines
Thomas Bordeleau Michigan Wolverines (Photo Credit Michigan Photography)

Bordeleau and Eklund do have some NHL experience, as they played nine games each under Bob Boughner during the 2021-22 season. Neither recorded a goal, however, they did play fairly well especially considering it was their first professional experience (at least in North America for Eklund). Bordeleau has also played under David Quinn previously, but it wasn’t for the Sharks. Quinn coached him, and the rest of Team USA at the 2022 IIHF World Championship, in which Finland ended up winning the gold medal, and the Americans walked away empty-handed.

Fitting Them Into the Sharks Lineup

Fitting Bordeleau and Eklund into the Sharks lineup is where things get a little tricky. Considering management will want them to play a decent amount every night, it would be ideal to slot them both into the top six. The obvious slot to fit one of them would be in Matt Nieto’s current spot on the second line. As of now, Nick Bonino is playing on the second line, as well, but that will only be temporary until Tomas Hertl returns from his current suspension. At that point, the most likely solution to this issue would be moving down either Kevin Labanc or Alexander Barabanov. Both have had fairly strong seasons so far, so it is a bit difficult to justify moving them down the lineup.

William Eklund San Jose Sharks
William Eklund, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Even though this is an issue that Quinn would have to work through, it’s pretty hard to argue that Bordeleau and Eklund wouldn’t contribute more than any of the players, who are currently in the bottom six forward group. It’s certainly risky to move either of the aforementioned Labanc or Barabanov down the lineup as their contracts expire after the 2023-24 season, and doing so might anger them, however, they’re likely to be moved at the next trade deadline regardless. Also, it’s important to prioritize the organization’s long-term development in situations like this.

The Sharks have reached a point where they’ve shown that the current roster doesn’t have what it takes to compete, yet they still aren’t willing to give their prospects an opportunity in the NHL. The biggest risk in doing so would be them overperforming and pushing the team out of the previously mentioned Bedard sweepstakes, however, that’s very unlikely to happen at this point. It’s time to play the rookies and look toward the next generation of San Jose hockey.

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