When Ken Holland took over the Oilers in 2019, he gave the organization a sense of stability that had been lacking over the previous decade-plus.
Gone would be panic moves and rushing young players into roles they weren’t ready for, and Holland would replace such wrongdoings with a patient, big-picture approach. So far, Holland has lived up to his reputation, as the Oilers have stocked their farm system and young players haven’t been forced to show if they’ll sink or swim.
This season could pose an interesting conundrum for Holland when it comes to balancing that big-picture approach and winning right now.
Xavier Bourgault, the team’s first-round pick from the 2021 NHL Draft, is turning pro in the fall after an excellent season in the QMJHL. The plan was for him to spend at least a season with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL after turning pro, but Edmonton’s depth on the right wing is thin and Bourgault might force the organization’s hand at some point in 2022-23.
Position: Centre / Right Wing
Date of Birth: October 22, 2002
Drafted: 2021, No. 22 overall (EDM)
Height: 6’0″ / 183 cm
Weight: 172 lbs / 78 kg
Bourgault was drafted by the Shawinigan Cataractes with the No. 33 overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL Draft. In his first QMJHL season in 2018-19, Bourgault scored 20 points in 62 games. The following season, Bourgault broke out with 33 goals and 71 points in 63 games.
Given his October birthday, Bourgault got one more season in the QMJHL before he was eligible for the NHL Draft. He scored an impressive 20 goals and 40 points in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, which was good for a 94-point pace over a regular 68-game QMJHL season.
The Oilers selected Bourgault No. 22 overall at the 2021 NHL Draft, continuing along with the previous year’s trend of selecting a forward who was among the oldest first-year eligible players in the class.
Bourgault missed some time due to injury but ultimately put together a very impressive showing in his post-draft season. Bourgault scored 36 goals and 75 points over 43 games, a 118-point pace over 68 games, and he then scored 22 points in 16 playoff games as the Cataractes won the QMJHL championship. Shawinigan lost in the Memorial Cup Final to the Saint John Sea Dogs and Bourgault finished tied for second in the tournament with seven points.
That loss in the Memorial Cup Final was the last game of Bourgault’s Major Junior career as he’ll turn pro in the fall. Given what we know about Holland and moving along slowly with prospects, the expectation is that Bourgault will spend the 2022-23 season in the AHL and then push for an NHL gig in 2023-24, following along in the footsteps of Dylan Holloway, the team’s first-round draft pick from the 2020 draft.
But that could change depending on the needs of the big league club. Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are Edmonton’s top two right-wingers while Zach Hyman and Derek Ryan are a left-winger and a centre who also spent time on the right wing last season. In the minors, AHL veteran Seth Griffith would currently be the top right-handed forward option to make the jump in a pinch.
So, with that in mind, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine Bourgault getting the call to the Oilers later in the season if he hits the ground running at the AHL level. If the Oilers aren’t getting enough production from the forwards they have on the right side, Bourgault might establish himself as the team’s top call-up option.
All players are different and there isn’t necessarily a manual to follow when it comes to development and time in the AHL. Looking at a couple of other No. 22 overall picks by the Oilers in recent memory, Kailer Yamamoto needed some time in the AHL before he established himself in the NHL while Jordan Eberle made the jump right from the WHL to the NHL and hit the ground running.
The Ken Holland era has seen the Oilers become more patient when it comes to developing prospects but they’re also in win-now mode and shouldn’t keep a young talent down in the AHL just for the sake of overripening them if they can make the NHL club better.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are those who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and are 23 years old or younger at the start of the 2022-23 season.
Previously in this series…
- Prospect Countdown – No. 4: Reid Schaefer
- Prospect Countdown – No. 5: Stuart Skinner
- Prospect Countdown – No. 6: Raphael Lavoie
- Prospect Countdown – No. 7: Carter Savoie
- Prospect Countdown – No. 8: Matvei Petrov
- Prospect Countdown – No. 9: Dmitri Samorukov
- Prospect Countdown – No. 10: Tyler Tullio
- Prospect Countdown – No. 11: James Hamblin
- Prospect Countdown – No. 12: Mike Kesselring
- Prospect Countdown – No. 13: Phil Kemp
- Prospect Countdown – No. 14: Jake Chiasson
- Prospect Countdown – No. 15: Olivier Rodrigue
- Prospect Countdown – Honourable Mentions
- Graduates and Departures From Last Year’s List