As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this prospect series, it’s been a big priority for the Oilers to draft forwards in the Ken Holland era.
Holland’s first pick at the helm in 2019 was defender Philip Broberg, but, since then, it’s been almost all forwards. Four of six picks in 2019 were forwards, all six picks in 2020 were forwards, and the team used their first-round selection in 2021 on yet another forward — Xavier Bourgault.
Bourgault and 2020 first-round pick Dylan Holloway, who I’ll talk about soon, are very different players, but they have something key in common. They’re both mature players who could have a quick path to playing in the NHL, filling the immediate needs the team has on the wings.
A late October birthday, Bourgault is going into his fourth season in the QMJHL this fall. He’ll graduate to the pro ranks in 2022-23 and, given Edmonton’s tight salary cap situation, could be pushing for a job on the team sooner rather than later.
Position: Centre / Right Wing
Date of Birth: October 25, 2002
Drafted: 2021, No. 22 overall (EDM)
Weight: 172 lbs
Bourgault’s first season in the QMJHL in 2018-19 was ho-hum, as he scored seven goals and 20 points over the course of 62 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes. The following year was quite a breakout, as Bourgault popped off for 33 goals and 71 points over 63 games before the season got cut short.
Due to his late birthday, Bourgault went back for a third go-around in the Q before he was eligible to be drafted by an NHL club. In the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, he scored an impressive 20 goals and 40 points over 29 games. We know the Q is high-scoring so we need to take that into account, but Bourgault finished seventh in the league in goals and third in the league in goals among players under the age of 19.
The Oilers traded down in the 2021 draft and selected Bourgault at No. 23, opting not to go with goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, who had fallen further than expected. This is right around where Bourgault was expected to go, as he ranked between No. 15 and No. 37 on major pre-draft lists.
He’s described as a highly-skilled and silky smooth forward with an excellent ability to make plays in the offensive zone. Bourgault is at his best with the puck on his stick, as he features a quick and accurate shot, strong passing ability, and creativity with dekes and moves.
Ahead of the draft, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Bourgault at No. 29, praising his play with the puck and projecting him as a middle-six NHL winger…
Bourgault is a very skilled forward who has put up huge numbers in the QMJHL the last two seasons with 111 points in 92 games. He scored 20 goals in 29 games in 2020-21. Bourgault stands out with the puck on his stick. He’s confident, attempting to make difficult dekes and passes and executing at a solid frequency. At higher levels he projects to play on a power play. He’s not an exceptional skater, but he will be able to skate at an NHL level, and has shown he can make skilled plays on the move and play with pace. I wouldn’t describe Bourgault as a physical player or the first guy over the boards on the penalty kill, but he backchecks well enough and creates turnovers with his hustle. In a sentence, Bourgault projects as a middle-six NHL forward, likely on the wing.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the profile of a player who could make a quick jump to the NHL, which is something the Oilers could use given their need on the wings and their difficult salary cap situation. Bourgault was one of the older players selected in the first round of this year’s draft, just like Dylan Holloway was last year.
Edmonton has Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Warren Foegele on the left side for the next few years but the right side is a bit more of an enigma. Kailer Yamamoto still hasn’t signed and Jesse Puljujarvi could command a hefty raise next summer if he takes another step forward. Zack Kassian hasn’t been the top-six forward the Oilers thought he was since inking his multi-year extension.
With all of that in mind coupled with Edmonton’s tight salary cap situation, there’s a gig in Edmonton’s top-nine for Bourgault to push for as soon as 2022-23. A huge season in the QMJHL will insert Bourgault right into the mix with the Oilers at training camp next fall.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.