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The Budding Spud: Will Borgen’s Path to the NHL

By Jessi Pierce, 04/17/23, 12:00PM CDT


Will Borgen never doubted his path.

With plenty of opportunities to leave high school early, the Moorhead defenseman remained a Spud through his senior season. As the captain, he continued to grow and develop, learning valuable leadership lessons and becoming a dominant blue-liner.

“As a kid, what’s special in Minnesota is staying in high school instead of going the junior route early and what not,” said Borgen, who’s having a breakout year for the Seattle Kraken. “You grow up playing for your community the whole time. It was my dream as a kid to initially play high school hockey.

“I never doubted I wanted to be the best hockey player I could be, whatever that meant and at whatever level that was.”

‘I Was Never Like a Top Guy or Anything’

After high school, Borgen was selected by Buffalo in the fourth round (No. 92 overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The budding blue-liner joined St. Cloud State, tallying 41 points in 106 games over three seasons.

As a junior with the Huskies, Borgen earned not only the NCHC’s Defensive Defenseman of the Year award, but also a call from Team USA as one of four collegiate players to be named to the 2018 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team.

Despite his accolades, Borgen insists his development was not on the fast track.

“My career has been pretty steady-paced,” Borgen said. “The whole time, I was never like a top guy or anything.

“For me, it was always about putting in the work to get there. I’m a pretty quiet guy, I’m told, so it was always easy to just kind of put my head down and do the work. I think that’s the biggest thing every player has to do – top guy or not. Work hard for what you want.”

And more hard work was needed for Borgen to reach the NHL.

Minor Details

After signing his first pro contract, Borgen spent parts of three seasons in the American Hockey League. It was not a straight path to the NHL. When Borgen did earn a call-up to the Sabres, he found himself sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch. Then he broke his arm.

In 2021, the Seattle Kraken selected Borgen in the expansion draft, signaling the possibility of more playing time. He again spent a lot of time in the press box as a healthy scratch but also played 36 NHL games, slowly gaining confidence and the trust of his team.

“I needed those years in the AHL to just develop,” he said. “And then the last two years of pro were kind of up and down. It was the COVID year, and then I broke my arm, and last year I was scratched for the majority of the season. I really didn’t get in many games the last two years, and that was hard. So, it was just a lot of practice. Always practicing to get better and just steadily learning the whole time.”

Plenty of that practice was done in the offseason, where Borgen relied on habits learned in youth: taking a break from hockey.

“I’d still skate in the summer because we had free ice in Moorhead, but I was playing soccer, baseball, football, or whatever else — just getting a break from hockey so that you don’t get burned out,” said Borgen, who noted golf is his favorite non-hockey activity. “Nowadays kids are just focusing on one sport, like hockey, and they’ll focus on that the entire summer, but when I was younger, I was playing every sport possible.”

Borgen’s patience and hard work have paid off. The 26-year-old played in all 82 regular-season games for the playoff-bound Kraken this year. He registered 3 goals and 17 assists for 20 points, but more importantly, he’s been rock solid in the defensive zone.

“His skating ability, his physicality, his ability to defend against good players and be on the ice against other teams’ top lines — albeit maybe not every shift, but to take some of those minutes — is really important for our team,” Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol told the Seattle Times.

Yet in the midst of his breakthrough season, Borgen remains level-headed.

“You have to trust yourself as a player and recognize what your skill set is and what your game is,” Borgen said. “Some days it’s not going to come, and other days it might feel super easy, but just always stick to your game and your work ethic, and things will work out just fine.”