Where should Edmonton Oilers prospect Xavier Bourgault play next season?
1 year ago
Xavier Bourgault’s junior career came to an end in the semifinals of the Memorial Cup after Jan Mysak scored the overtime winner for the Hamilton Bulldogs, sending them to the final versus Saint John and putting Shawinigan back on the bus.
A bitter end to what was a fantastic season for Shawinigan, a team that won their first QMJHL championship, and Xavier Bourgault played a considerable role in that success.
Last winter, Bourgault suffered an injury whilst playing for Team Canada at the World Juniors Championship. It kept him out of the lineup for 25 games, but despite the missed time, Bourgault was still able to put together a great season that saw him register 36 goals and 76 points, a new career high. With that chapter of his life over, Bourgault is set on turning pro and possibly cracking the Edmonton Oilers’ roster next season. Is it possible?
Ken Holland has a history of not rushing his first-round draft picks. In the three years, he’s been in Edmonton, Xavier Bourgault, Dylan Holloway, and Philip Broberg have a combined 23 NHL regular season games played, all of which came from Broberg. The last time Ken Holland allowed a first-rounder to play as a full-timer in the NHL as a 19-year-old was Dylan Larkin when he played in 80 games in 2015-16 for Detroit after scoring 15 goals and 47 points in 35 games for the University of Michigan. Larkin became an all-star in his first year and finished the season with 23 goals and 45 points. Not only was he the last player to play two years after he was drafted but also the only one to do so under a Holland-managed team.
Something that could help Bourgault take the step is the lack of depth on the right side for the Oilers. Jesse Puljujarvi, whose future looks uncertain, and Kailer Yamamoto are the only right-wingers on the roster right now. Zach Hyman and Derek Ryan spent time on the right side and could, again in 2023. Holland recognizes the need to fill the void with the Oilers linked to Connor Brown until he was traded to the Washington Capitals.
If Puljujarvi is moved this summer, then it’s likely Hyman and Yamamoto play in the Oilers’ top six which leaves only Ryan to play on the third line. Having Bourgault on the third line centered by Ryan McLeod or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has more offensive upside than it does with Derek Ryan. Edmonton saw what maximizing your offensive abilities can do in the Western Conference Final versus the Colorado Avalanche.
By no means is Bourgault going to bring the physicality that Zack Kassian brought to the right side. In a recent interview with TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, he said his most significant area of improvement needs to be his strength, and, right now, he’s weighing in at around 180 lbs. It’s an area of weakness that most players carry into the pro ranks. That said, being around NHL strength and conditioning coaches will only benefit him. One player in the same weight class as Bourgault is Dawson Mercer from the New Jersey Devils.
Mercer had a great rookie season in New Jersey in 2022 after coming out of the QMJHL, the same league as Bourgault. The Devils forward played 194 games in the QMJHL with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens and Drummondville Voltigeurs, scoring 84 goals and 186 points. Statistically, Bourgault is similar to him, with 197 games to his name, along with 96 goals and 206 points. In the NHL, Mercer was able to produce at a good rate scoring 17 goals in 82 games while playing mostly alongside Yegor Sharangovich and Andreas Johnsson. Both are good players in their own right, but Bourgault could see ice time with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins early in the year and possibly Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid, depending on how he performs.
If Bourgault is to play in the American Hockey League with the Bakersfield Condors, it’s not a failure on his part. In fact, it would probably help his game. There aren’t many 22nd overall picks that make it to the NHL on a full-time basis two years after getting picked. The last forward to do it and make an impact was Kailer Yamamoto, who started the season with the Condors and then played more games in Bakersfield the year after.
In Bakersfield, he’d have more time and less pressure to work on his on-ice game and his strength, which he said was his weakest trait. Putting him into the limelight immediately could harm him, however, that doesn’t prevent Edmonton from calling him up at some point.
All eyes will be on Bourgault next season, much like they were with Dylan Holloway last year. Whether he’s skating with the Oilers on opening night or down in Bakersfield working on his game, it’s going to be exciting to see what Bourgault looks like at the professional level.
BOURGAULT’S CAREER SO FAR
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