Xavier Bourgault has taken quite a journey in his first professional season with the Bakersfield Condors. He came flying out of the gate with three goals and three assists in the opening seven games of the year. He was playing high leverage 5v5 minutes along with time on the first powerplay and, surprisingly, a decent number of minutes on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, the impressive start by Bourgault did not last. He went scoreless in his next five games and thus began a long and winding road for the first-year pro. Over his next 41 games, he tallied just 16 points. In addition, he started to lose his top-billing minutes on skill lines and was even pulled from the first powerplay. In the past two weeks, however, the path took another turn. Actually, it took a couple of turns, some good and some not so much. We detail Xavier Bourgault below plus we start humming a few bars of “lather, rinse, repeat.”
Who Caught My Eye This Week?
As we noted, Bourgault’s season took another turn about two weeks ago. In that time, Bourgault found his stride. He has accumulated two goals and seven assists in his last eight games. This week, he added a goal and an assist in five periods of hockey along with five shots on net. Why five periods, well that’s another turn in the journey as we will see below.
Bourgault has started to assert himself again offensively. This week his goal was on the powerplay where he showed his tight quarter puck skills handling the bumper role.
More impressively, there was a jump in Bourgault’s game this week with him winning puck battles much as he did early in the season. Once he got the puck, well that is where the magic began to happen again. Here is a clip of a great puck win by Bourgault. Then watch his hands and then the vision to create the opportunity for a goal here by Noah Philp.
Even when he wasn’t scoring, he was showing that early season confidence again taking pucks to the net with confidence and creativity. This will be a key for Bourgault. He needs to continue to do this so that he draws players to him allowing him to use his vision and set up teammates. The more he can be a threat in the middle part of the offensive zone, the more success he will have as a pro.
Everything was going swimmingly for Bourgault and it looked to be like he was ready to really open up his game. Then came San Jose on Friday night and this hit.
Bourgault did finish the period which was a long stretch of time. However, when the third period started, Bourgault did not return and he has since been diagnosed with an undisclosed injury. He missed Saturday night’s return game against San Jose as well. Now this remains a pet peeve of mine with fans of teams. The desire to race young players to the NHL without a proper on-ice and off-ice development path that includes lots of time in the AHL is not a good thought process. This is accentuated even further when the player is smaller. Give them time and let them get bigger and stronger, and get a healthy dose of experience. To emphasize this point, here is a clip from a game not that long ago when Bourgault had another collision.
Rushing these players to the NHL can be a hazard to their careers. It also hurts the organization. Bourgault is going to be a good NHL player I believe, but not this season and not even likely next season. Be patient. Patience works.
One player who can certainly speak strongly on this topic is Raphael Lavoie. Lavoie had a hit with Jason Gregor on his radio show on TSN 1260 this week and spoke at length about how the AHL is a tough league that requires 100% commitment in all facets of the game to have success. Remember, Lavoie is 6’4″ and 220 pounds. He even talked about his struggles with the AHL. Lavoie is also a testament to what can happen if an organization is patient with a prospect. Lavoie has been on absolute fire since the Christmas break. This week was just another strong effort by Lavoie in his quest to get to Edmonton. Three games were played and three goals were scored to go with an assist. He also had a healthy 13 shots on net in those three games. In terms of his goals, it was the Lavoie release that was on display yet again.
Lavoie’s confidence with the puck is also noticeably improved. He uses his body to protect the puck and then makes some very subtle plays with the puck in close quarters. The clip below is a nice demonstration of something that I think can make Lavoie effective in the NHL. He will not get knocked off the puck very easily. Plus I love the unselfish thought by Lavoie here even though he could have shot originally. He, of course, finishes the clip by showing that impressive release.
Again with Lavoie, it will all be about the defensive side of the game. This week he continues to show improvement in this area. Here is a nice little clip where Lavoie is the F3 and realizes he’s too wide. He sprints back into the middle and marks his man all the way back to his zone and continues to work low helping his defencemen create a loose puck and then racing to help the exit. This is all very boring stuff to many, but it is this type of attention to detail that gets coaches excited.
Now thanks to the tight playoff race the Oilers find themselves in and the cap situation as well, we likely won’t see Lavoie this year. However, that has nothing to do with Lavoie, who has done everything you want a prospect to do this year.
Philp had a noticeable week, but not all of it was good. The surprising part was the less positive elements of his week, which are usually strengths to his game. Here are two plays where Philp’s usual strong hockey sense let him down and it resulted in two goals against. The first is just a slight misread on a Condors’ forecheck. Philp sitting in the F3 position needed to back out and stay in the middle of the ice. Instead, he goes to the puck carrier and now all three Condors forwards are caught deep. Dash one.
The second play was again out of character for Philp. He gets puck-watching and loses his mark behind him. It results in a high-danger shot that becomes a goal against. Yes, you can tell by his reaction he knows his error.
As we said, the path of a prospect is a winding one. That were the tough, teachable moments. Philp also had some very good moments. In fact, his good moments continue to outnumber his bad by a wide margin. In three games this week, he had two goals and an assist. Again, the way he scores goals is very encouraging in terms of his variety. He goes to the net often when he doesn’t have the puck and his hand-eye coordination is very good. His big body is a great screen and has a high success rate in getting his stick-on shot attempts.
More importantly, he can also score from distance with a heavy shot off a very quick release. Why is that important? It will help him create space for his linemates when teams collapse to him to defend the shot. If they don’t defend him, he will punish goalies with his shot as he did here on a former NHL goalie.
He also continues to do a bunch of the little things that coaches love well as you can see in these not-very subtle, but absolutely passive-aggressive tweets below from some dummy.
Overall, an encouraging week for Oiler prospects. Not the straight-line path to stardom every fan hopes for with every prospect. Instead, there were lots of positive steps with a couple of steps backwards. Just another week illustrating the winding path of prospect development for the Edmonton Oilers.
That’s it folks for another week of the Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report. Next week we will be talking about the USHL and the KHL as well. As always feedback is welcome here or at my Twitter handle @bcurlock. See you next week.