The Edmonton Oilers prospect that likely had the most organizational focus this year was Xavier Bourgault. No question fans may have been more focused on Carter Savoie because of his local roots, but Bourgault would have been most closely watched by Oilers management for many reasons.
Primary of all the reasons was the fact Bourgault was a first round selection. In addition, he was a first-round selection the team chose over much heralded goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt at a time when the Oilers’ net was staffed by Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen: two goalies who garnered their fair share of criticism. Bourgault also would have been followed closely because he is a high-skill right winger. The organization, as became clear by the end of the season, did not have a lot of depth on the right side and certainly not with Bougault’s offensive upside. What did Oilers management see in Xavier Bourgault in 2022-23? A player who has offensive flair, but wasn’t quite ready for the rigours of professional hockey. Xavier Bourgault and a season that many rookies go through, right here.
What Did I See?
One of the themes of my writing for Oiler prospects with the Condors this year was their uneven handling by the coaching staff. Most were healthy scratched or given short minutes in fourth-line roles. Most didn’t see high-leverage minutes early on at 5v5 or on specialty teams. None of that, however, applied to Bourgault. Bourgault started the year higher up the lineup than his fellow rookies, and he also played heavy minutes on the powerplay. To some surprise, even minutes on the penalty kill. He started the year like a house on fire with six points in his first seven games, but as the year went on, he clearly wore down playing against bigger and faster players than he was used to. He also had some injury issues this year.
A much-publicized injury after a vicious hit caused an upper-body injury. I also think he had an injury in the middle of the season because his skating did not look quite the same for about two months although the organization certainly did not say anything. In the end, Bourgault finished the season with 13-21-34 in 62 games averaging .55 points per game. His point totals had him 32nd in rookie scoring in the AHL. Was it the season he or the organization hoped for? Probably not.
However, I don’t think his path to the NHL is any less viable, it just requires Bourgault to do some things that almost every rookie to pro hockey needs to do to succeed.
The Offensive Skills
Before we look at some of the areas where Bourgault has an opportunity to better his pro game, we should review the elements of his game that stood out this year. Bourgault is a wizard with the puck on his stick. His hand-eye coordination along with his ability to process tight quarter plays is impressive. Look at this clip that has a couple of sequences from his first regular-season pro game in October of 2022.
Here are a couple more examples of his hands, patience and vision that show off NHL-level skill.
There is no question that if Xavier Bourgault makes the NHL, he is going to have some fans in his linemates. His ability to hold the puck in high-pressure situations and then get it to teammates in space is going to lead to scoring opportunities.
Bougault Might Have Had An Older Brother On The Oilers
Bourgault is a highly talented offensive player. He will get his points, no question. However, in terms of goal-scoring, he does not do it with the flair you might expect. In fact, he does it in a way that is both encouraging for a young player and repeatable at the NHL level. He does it by going to the net. Now, I know those that follow me will already know this answer, but look at the series of clips where Xavier Bourgault scores from and see if he reminds you of anyone from Oilers history.
If your answer was Jordan Eberle, you would be correct. Bourgault is going to score a lot of goals from inside ten feet. Given his size, the location of his goals and his handedness, he reminds me so much of Eberle’s younger days.
He’s An Energy Player?
When I watched Bougault in junior, he had a high-energy motor. However, I wondered if it was more that his skating and his hockey sense were advanced compared to the players he was playing against. Well, when he got to the AHL that motor was on display again. I wrote several times that this is a hugely important part of his game because when he is not scoring, he still needs to impact the game. He is not the biggest player on the ice, so keeping his feet moving and staying on his assignments consistently will be very important. Here are a few examples of how Bourgault’s motor can impact the professional game.
He’s a PK Specialist You Say?
This was absolutely the most surprising part of Bougault’s rookie season. The young man played a lot on the penalty kill and had a lot of success. He’s got a great stick for starters and it is often in the playmaking defensive stops. He also has a quick first couple of steps that close gaps on opposition players when there are puck bobbles. He also makes really smart reads of plays and it allows him to be in spots to turn the puck over.
All of these combined skills led to Bourgault scoring twice shorthanded this season which tied him for the team lead and was 12th in the AHL.
The Passing…..Oh Man
We have talked about the offensive skills of Xavier Bourgault as a whole. However, this would be lazy writing if I didn’t take a few minutes to illustrate Xavier Bourgault’s passing on its own. His hands are amazing, but his vision to find his teammates is surreal.
Watch the creativity and the weight judgement of this pass to Tyler Tullio for a scoring chance. It illustrates Bougault’s big offensive brain.
If Bourgault makes the NHL, I have no question he will play in a top-six role. His passing skills are going to make it very hard for him to stay off a skill line.
Now it obviously wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Bourgault this year. There were two elements to his game that certainly need improvement. The first is a mental one related to consistent play. Bourgault was given a lot of quality minutes by this coaching staff all year. As mentioned, this was not the case with all of prospect colleagues. The problem was Bourgault did not always reward his coaches. That has to change next year. He needs to play every shift like it is his last. He will have trouble ever making the NHL if he disappears for big stretches of games. Here is one modest example of how he can shrink from a game and what happens when he does.
Here is another one where he has the puck and instead of making the hard play to the net, he settles on the outside.
Xavier Bourgault has too much skill to let opposition players off the hook. He can impact the game at the pro level on every shift, but he needs to decide if he wants to do it.
The other element to his game where he can grow is his strength. No surprise for a first-year pro, but he needs to put the work in this summer. Look at this series of clips and tell me if you think Bourgault can survive the rigours of pro hockey without getting stronger.
The addition of muscle mass will help his game no question. Both when he is engaged with a player, but also when he is on the forecheck.
Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down
The year for most Oiler prospects was rocky. Xavier Bourgault was no exception. That said there is a lot to like. Bourgault needs to decide if he wants to work hard on every single shift that is given to him. If he does, great. If he does not, he’s going to fail out as a first-round pick. That would be a shame given his talent. Bougault no doubt is aware of the conundrum on the Oilers depth chart at right wing. There are opportunities here for someone like him. He just has to decide if he wants it because his skills are certainly a fit.