This is a short series on the next group of Oiler prospects graduating to professional hockey. The articles focus on the skills the players have and those where there are opportunities for improvement. The article tries to establish what a successful first year of pro hockey would look like for the player.
Edmonton Oiler draftniks love to eat their own. Nobody would understand that more than Philip Broberg who appears to have a not insignificant portion of the Oilers fan base loathing his presence in copper and blue. However, there is another Oilers prospect that is a relatively close second in Xavier Bourgault. Bourgault, of the draft where Ken Holland could have selected the next Swedish Ken Dryden or Andrei Vasilesky thus cementing 3 or 4 Stanley Cups for Connor and Leon. However, something weird happened on the way to anointing Bourgault as the next “why did we take him over that other guy”: he got good. Or more accurately, people began to realize he was good already.
Bourgault is a four year CHLer having played with Shawinigan of the QMJHL since the ripe old age of 15. He’s consistently scored in junior and done so at an accelerated pace each year. He’s got decent size at 6’0” and 180 pounds. For me, I was surprised Bourgalt was available at 22nd overall in the 2021 and I am pretty convinced in a re-draft, Bourgault cozies up tight to the top 12 selected.
What are The Goods?
It goes without saying that Xavier Bourgault is an absolute magician inside the offensive zone. His vision and hockey sense on understanding time and space in the offensive zone is very strong. This combined with his constant motion both with and without the puck makes him very hard to mark. Most impressive, his passing skills are already pro level in terms of both accuracy and pace. In an injury shortened season, Bourgault finished 5th in points per game and third in goals per game in the regular season. He followed that up finishing 11th in points per game in the playoffs.
The clip below illustrates what makes him so dangerous. Watch his movement plus his vision and his understanding of what is happening before it actually happens. Then watch the passing skills he exudes.
Bourgault’s skating is an asset as well, He’s not in the category of Ryan McLeod or a Dylan Holloway, but he’s not a meaningful step down. His stride is long and his stance is wide as the clip below illustrates, so he gives off the impression of a slower pace. Honestly, though you do not see that in games. He can separate against better junior players and he does create havoc on the forecheck sooner than defenders expect. I doubt his speed will be any type of an issue.
What's more important for me is that his skating gives him a strong base making him difficult to check when he has the puck. This allows for added possession giving his teammates time to provide him options for the attack.
His edges are average, but again, given his wide stance and long stride, he is going to have less edgework capability. That said, his hands are so good he beats players using his hands with his feet following.
The biggest difference that I have seen in Bourgault’s game this year has been his willingness to play in the middle of the ice and get involved in the chaos. It has not always translated to points, but playing on the perimeter at the pro level will not lead to success. Indeed, one of the main reasons Ryan McLeod fell to the second round in his draft year was this exact criticism. That part of his game has obviously developed and Bourgault has done the same thing in junior. Look at the clip below and notice where Bourgault is located and the battles he takes on to make plays. This is very typical of his game now.. This is a big deal for his development and will stand him in good stead as a professional if it continues.
Wait?!?! What About His Shot?
Yes, I did say above that he scores at a .86 per game clip. Over 72 games, he would have scored 50 goals. Honestly, he is not a shooter in the vein of what we think of. He doesn’t have a booming shot or a quick release and he rarely scores from distance. He reminds me a great deal of a former Oiler, who I believe is his closest comp, Jordan Eberle. His shot is very accurate and more importantly he understands how and when to use it like Eberle did. Look at this one clip below which is actually a goal from some distance, but more importantly it is a carbon copy of a Jordan Eberle style of goal that follows. He sees the screen, notices the goalie position and aims a pretty soft wrist shot to a space where the goalie won’t find the puck. Eberle has scored that goal 50 times in his NHL career.
So while he scores a bunch, he does it from near the crease area in a multitude of ways. To me this will be a big challenge in his pro career. The crease area is much more crowded and the players he will be against will be bigger and stronger, so he will need to get stronger himself and be even quicker down low to continue this success. However, his goal scoring prowess cannot be denied as he illustrates here.
OK The Shot Isn’t Great, But We Can Still Pencil Him In on the Oilers’ Roster Right?
So it has been a fascinating journey for Bourgault. He’s gone from not being really wanted by some Oiler fans in the draft to perhaps starting the season with the Oilers. Some of this has been his strong play this year which ended up at the Memorial Cup with Shawinigan. Certainly some of it is related to people looking at the depth chart on right wing and seeing that there is some weakness there.
Honestly, I would be surprised under Ken Holland if he made the team and I am reasonably confident it wouldn’t be the best case for his development. There are two areas where Bourgault will need work. First, and foremost, he needs to get bigger and stronger. While his level of physicality improved in junior this year, the QMJHL is not a terribly challenging league physically. He’s going to need time to get bigger and stronger. As mentioned above, a great deal of success came from the middle of the ice this year.
The other major area for improvement will be his defensive play. The QMJHL is not a league focused on defense first. In addition, Bourgault played on a highly skilled line all season including times with Mavrik Bourque, so the focus was offense all the time. As such, Bourgault has some habits that he needs to overcome to avoid being outscored consistently. Most of what you can see in these clips is a lack of intensity on the defensive side of the puck. I expect pro coaching will solve this issue in relatively short order given the effort level that Bourgault plays at in all other areas.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that Bourgault’s draft plus one year scoring results were built on his power play brilliance. In the regular season, Bourgault scored 37 of his 75 points on the power play. Now that was an anomaly for his junior career. In other seasons he was around 25% of his point totals coming from the powerplay. Even in the 2021/22 playoffs, he averaged approximately 25% of his points off the powerplay. So I expect it is an outlier, but it does bear watching in his first pro year. Bourgault will need to produce at evens because he will certainly see far less power play time.
On a similar vein, it should be noted that while Bourgault scored at a 1.73 points per game pace, when Mavrik Bourque was out, Bourgault’s numbers dropped to 1.36 points per game. Ths was in a relatively decent sample size of 22 games. This could indicate that when opponents could line up their best 5 players against Bourgault he didn’t fare as well. Again, nothing fatal, but something to observe this year is Bourgault’s ability to handle tougher competition and succeed.
What To Expect From Bourgault in Bakersfield?
Xavier Bourgault needs to carve out a top 6 role instantly with the Condors to have any chance of getting some time with the Oilers this season. The depth chart on the right side is not terribly overwhelming for him to achieve that goal. Griffith, Lavoie and Tulio are his main competition and given Lavoie’s history and Tulio being more of a checking style player at this stage, Bourgault should hold down 2RW. In addition, Bourgault should likely spend time on the 1PP almost immediately. His elite passing skills that are pro level will be a benefit for the powerplay as will his willingness to go to the net without hesitation.
In terms of metrics, it will be important for Bourgault’s line to out shoot their opponents and honestly to outscore them. This will be indicative of a player that is helping his line defensively as well as offensively.
As for scoring totals, I mentioned previously that the top twenty rookies in the AHL in the 2021/22 season scored at a rate of 0.69 pts/g and 0.35 goals per game. Bourgault will be at the very young end of the rookie group starting as a 19 year old. However, given his pedigree for scoring and the likelihood of power play time, a year that had him score 60-70 points would be reasonable. If he scored more than twenty goals that would be a surprise given he lacks a plus shot, but his instincts around the net make this a challenge to watch closely.
Maybe Jordan Eberle can return to Edmonton in a 2.0 version and without a decade of darkness following him around.