It appears we are entering a period of Edmonton Oilers history where first-round draft picks cracking the team will become a less often occurrence.
Of course, this year’s camp will include first-round picks from 2019 and 2020 vying for spots with Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg. That being said, both players have already enjoyed their cup of coffee in the NHL.
Because of the team entering their “win-now” period, causing both 2022’s first rounder, Reid Schaefer, and the 2023 first rounder to be traded, that leaves just one more first rounder who has yet to make it into the big leagues: Xavier Bourgault.
The Frenchman was drafted 22nd overall in the 2021 draft by Edmonton. The move was, and still is controversial, as the Oilers decided to trade down while, topflight goaltending prospect, Jesper Wallstedt was still on the board.
He has already completed his first pro season in the AHL and is entering that crucial sophomore season. So, what can we expect from the last true first rounder still in the system this year?
When GM Ken Holland selected Bourgault, he was described as a flashy centerman with an excellent finishing touch combined with great speed and decent playmaking ability.
His draft season was hampered by injuries and only saw him appear in 29 QMJHL games with the Shawinigan Cataractes. Though limited in his time playing, Bourgault made up for it, scoring 20 goals and 40 points during that span. Very impressive numbers considering that he was fighting through injuries.
His D+1 season saw him play a full season, where he re-established himself as one of the team’s most reliable scorers with 75 points in the regular season. Bourgault’s performance in the playoffs was also very encouraging, finishing fourth in the league with 22 points in 16 games en route to a league championship.
Bourgault turned pro last season with the Bakersfield Condors, and while not scoring at quite the rate he was in junior, it turned into a solid rookie campaign. He was able to carve out a role in the team’s top six and on the power play. Despite being a natural centerman, Bourgault spent most his time in Bakersfield on the wing.
All in all, Bourgault was able to pull in 34 points in his first 62 pro games.
Though primarily known for what he can bring offensively, Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala was more impressed with Bourgault’s improvements on the defensive side of the puck.
“He’s noticeably more aware. Rarely do I find him below the play in the offensive zone when his team doesn’t have possession. He keeps the game in front of him very well, intercepting pucks high in the offensive zone in the process. He also positions himself to assist with back pressure through the neutral zone when opponents are on the attack.”– Jason Bukala, Sportsnet
Bourgault is a good player, and so far has justified his draft position as a middle of the pack first rounder.
Though he had a decent rookie season at the pro level, there isn’t a whole lot of options for Bourgault this upcoming season.
The Oilers are entering a “Cup or bust” season and already have a levy of young players ahead of Bourgault, including Raphael Lavoie and Dylan Holloway, that will be vying for spots in the bottom-six. Now he does have a shot at playing some NHL games this year, and depending on how he fares early-on this season, could present himself as a decent skill call-up if Lavoie or Holloway either get injured or fail to stick with the team.
There is almost a non-zero chance he will play as a centerman in the NHL this year as the Oilers are stacked down the middle with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan McLeod, and any one of Derek Ryan, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Mattias Janmark if they so choose.
The most likely outcome is that Bourgault is promoted to the Condors top-line where he is leaned on more heavily to be one of their feature offensive weapons at both even strength and on the power play.
He has an outside chance of making the NHL club out of camp but that would require several unlikely outcomes to occur. Considering Holland’s patience with prospects, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bourgault is AHL bound regardless of his performance at camp.
As of right now, Bourgault is following the expected timeline of a first-rounder on a contending team. If he were in an organization like the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks, he may be in a better position to make the big leagues this year. The fact that Edmonton is icing what is expected to be team capable of going all the way has bought Bourgault more time to develop.
Scouting reports still believe that Bourgault has the potential to be a top-six forward in the NHL that can provide a finishing touch and that absolutely fills a need for the Oilers in the coming years.
Right now, the hope is that Connor Brown will be able to play the role of a scoring winger in the top six, but if he doesn’t extend with the club, that spot will be up for grabs. Even if Holloway or Lavoie pounce on that, it will create a spot in the bottom-six in 2024 that could be taken by Bourgault.
Of course, we also have to acknowledge the possibility that Bourgault could also be traded as soon as this year’s deadline. Though he is one of the more premier prospects in a pretty thin pool, time is at a premium in Edmonton and he could be part of a package to bring in a more established difference-maker ahead of a playoff run.
Interesting times are ahead in Bourgault’s career and he is surely going to be a player that Oilers fans should keep an eye on in Bakersfield this season.