GREGOIRE CONTINUES TO MAKE HUGE STRIDES IN YEAR TWOJan 10, 2020
by @NickNollen / sjbarracuda.com
In his final two seasons in the QMJHL, Thomas Gregoire was one of the most prolific blueliners in the league, posting 133 points (22 goals, 111 assists) in 133 games over the two years, the most by a defenseman from 2016-2018. Yet, the Sherbrooke, Quebec, native would twice be passed over in the NHL draft.
The Barracuda signed the puck-moving d-man to a three-year AHL contract on July 10, 2018 and as the team’s youngest member a season ago, just 20-years-old at the time, Gregoire appeared in 26 games as a rookie, posting nine points (two goals, seven assists). But it was a blowout win over the Colorado Eagles near the end of the season that may have changed everything for the five-foot-11, 170-pound defenseman. In a 9-0 win on March 17, Gregoire scored his first two pro goals, added an assist and finished with a single-game franchise best plus-six rating.
“It was a big step for me that game… that game kind of opened my eyes that I can play in this league,” said Gregoire. “I was able to get a couple points in that game and I was able to score my first goal so I went into this season thinking what is the next step?”
GREGOIRE DROPS THE GLOVES pic.twitter.com/Pze3Ws3YOQ— San Jose Barracuda (@sjbarracuda) January 9, 2020
Gregoire went into his first offseason on a mission to become a regular in the lineup in year two. With his confidence now in place, he worked on gaining weight and strength to be able to handle the rigors of a full-time role in the pros.
“Guys are really big in this league, it’s different playing juniors where each team has one or two guys over 6’3”, 6’4” in the league, and here there is one or two or three on each team," said Gregoire. “It’s a different game and a different mentality in this league… so I tried to be harder in the gym, a little heavier… that’s what I worked on this summer.”
After being used sparingly in his first year, Gregoire has become a regular in the lineup in year two. In just two additional games, the 21-year-old has already doubled his point totals and assist totals from a year ago. Gregoire is first among Barracuda defensemen in points (19), assists (16), power-play goals (2), points-per-game (.68) and shots (51).
“It goes back to his mindset and the way he took things last year in stride,” said Barracuda Co-Coach Michael Chiasson. “It’s hard to sit out that many games for a 20-year-old but he took it in stride, we worked on a few things in his game and this offseason he put in the work.”
As a smaller player, Gregoire’s defensive successes are predicated more on his smarts, positioning and quickness as opposed to brute strength.
“My feet are always going to help me and using my smarts,” said Gregoire. “I can compete in different ways, with my stick, with my feet, good positioning. Even though I can’t get taller, I can still get bigger and stronger.”
“His early reads and his stick location I think can help dictate those bigger forwards in the American League,” said Chiasson. “He’s worrying about staying on the d-side of the puck, not getting tangled up in wrestling matches and grappling matches. That’s where he’s using his feet and his stick to defend. When he gets in wrestling matches and on the other side of the puck, that’s when it ends up going the other way.”
Knowing the systematic expectations has also helped the young defenseman make huge strides in his sophomore season. He’s no longer thinking, he’s just reacting and using his skillset.
“I know what to do now so I just play and read and react. It helps with the preparation, knowing what I have to do in each situation.”
In addition to his increased workload, Gregoire has also been a mainstay on the power-play while also filling in from time to time on the penalty kill.
“I’ve tried to continue making steps and bring my game forward every night. I’m not scared to try different things and continue to get better.”