GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – At one point in his career with the Flyers organization, Rob Bordson was considered a throw away. Now, he’s starting to make the organization think differently.
When the Flyers traded Mike Richards to Los Angeles in the summer of 2011 and brought back two contracts – Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn – they needed to add another contract to the deal so they could stay within the 50-contract limit for NHL teams.
Bordson was a guy that was lost in the shuffle with the Adirondack Phantoms, so he was added to the deal.
It didn’t matter to the Kings, who had no intention of signing Bordson anyway, and a few weeks later Bordson became an unrestricted free agent.
The native of Duluth, Minnesota was at a crossroads of his young career and needed to figure out what to do. With no NHL team interested and no AHL team even willing to offer a tryout contract, Bordson had little choice but try to start over in the ECHL.
“It felt like I was starting the sport all over again,” he said.
So Bordson latched on with the Trenton Titans. At the start of last season, and had a renewed focus to committing himself to a better focus on the sport.
While at Trenton, a few scouts got to see him play, including those from the Flyers.
“We were keeping tabs on him,” said Flyers Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor. “There was always something about him that we liked, so we wanted to see if that would come together for him.”
Did they ever.
While at Trenton last season, Bordson posted the best offensive numbers of his career including his time in the AHL, collegiately at the University of Minnesota-Dultuth and even his one season in the USHL – the top junior hockey league in the United States.
Bordson, 24, played just 38 games for the Titans but in that time amassed 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists). It was enough to earn him an amateur tryout contract with the Rochester Americans.
He only played eight games with Rochester, before that tryout contract expired and it wasn’t renewed. But that’s when the Flyers came calling again and said they’d like to give Bordson another chance.
So they signed him to a new deal and he finished out the season playing 24 games with the Phantoms.
But now he was going to be used differently. The Phantoms wanted to see how he would look as a shut down forward, playing against the top players on the opposing team.
He did a decent enough job to finish the 11-12 season that he was brought back for training camp in September.
However, with the trickle down effect of NHL talent in the AHL, many believed Bordson’s ticket was going to once again be punched for Trenton.
Except he stuck with the Phantoms.
And through the first nine games he’s really impressed coach Terry Murray.
“He’s a player that really thinks the game,” said Murray, who certainly has an appreciation for players with a strong background in the mental part of the sport. “He plays really well within the system and he knows his role and plays it well. He’s a guy that you can trust to do his job the right way. And he is always willing to learn. He asks a lot of good questions in practice. You can see that he really embraces his role.”
And it’s a role that’s difficult for some players to undertake because when you’re a forward and your good enough to make it to the AHL, your background is usually one rooted in skill.
So, to suddenly accept a role where you have to unselfishly put aside that skill to provide the team with the kind of hard work and energy that is often overlooked by fans because it’s not easily measured statistically takes a real understanding and commitment that often is lost on young players at this level.
“There are three zones on the ice and you have to be responsible in all three,” Bordson said. “Everyone at this level has played power play or top line minutes at some point previously and they still want to do that. I’m not really worried about that. I like playing a defensive role. I just want to play hard and be a team-oriented guy.
“It’s been a lifelong goal to get to the NHL. I’m one league away. I’m playing in the best league in North America at the moment and with all the talent that’s down here, it’s awesome. If that’s my ticket to the NHL – to be a defensive forward, a shut down guy and a penalty killer, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
The notion of Bordson being an NHL caliber player was definitely a long shot a year ago, and while he’s still not considered an elite prospect, he’s at least on the radar as a guy who might be able to develop into a fourth line type/penalty kill specialist in the future.
“He’s a guy that grows on you,” Pryor said. “He does a lot of little things really well. When you don’t see how he is day in and day out, you maybe don’t see it, but as a coach you get to see it every day and a guy like that grows on you and they know they can rely on them. A player like him is very valuable.
“You have to find an identity and sometimes that takes awhile. He’s been through a lot with different organizations, but he’s figured it out and will do whatever it takes to play. He’s a versatile guy.”
But will that translate to getting a chance in the NHL?
“There’s an opportunity here for sure,” Pryor said. “It ultimately depends on what he does himself but people in the organization do like him because of what he does. You never really know, but I agree with Terry. What Sean (Couturier) did really well for the Flyers last year, Rob is doing at this level for the Phantoms this year.
“Down the road, whether that would be this year, next year, or whenever the time might come, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that he be able to do that [reach the NHL].”
And that’s all Bordson wants is a chance.
“I just want to keep learning from Terry Murray,” Bordson said. “He’s got a lot of experience and knows what it takes to make it to the NHL. I just want to listen to what he says, learn from him and get better.
“I take pride in playing in both ends of the rink. There’s something that makes you feel good about shutting down the other team’s top line, or killing off a penalty. I’ll do that any day.”
And who knows, “any day” may turn into “today” some day soon for Bordson when it comes to fulfilling that dream if he maintains his selflessness and work ethic.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37