Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2021 NHL Draft Class introductions. The 2020 Draft class was a blast, and the 2021 NHL draft should be too. Alexis Lafreniere was the first overall pick for the New York Rangers in ‘20, but who will it be in ‘21? How about we here at Last Word introduce a name to pay attention to this season: Xavier Bourgault.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Who To Watch This Season
The 2021 Draft is not exactly a strong one. Many experts and scouts alike have claimed that teams should now more than ever trade their first-round picks for impact players. However, there are still plenty of players that can have a strong impact at the NHL level. One such prospect, Xavier Bourgault, gets criminally underrated by many, but he shouldn’t be for long.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Xavier Bourgault
Bourgault, born October 22nd, 2002, in L’Islet, Quebec, currently plays for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. The right-shot center stands at 6’0” and 172 pounds, showing he still needs to fill out his frame but isn’t necessarily small at the moment. He has been ranked 19th by Dobber Prospects, 22nd by FC Hockey, 23rd by Recruit Scouting, 27th by Smaht Scouting and 28th by Draft Prospects Hockey. I currently have him ranked 6th on my board, which shows exactly why I believe he is so overlooked.
In 2019-20, his second QMJHL season, Bourgault recorded 33 goals and 38 assists for 71 points in 63 games. That’s a fantastic season for a 17-year-old player in his DY-1 season. He has followed that up in the QMJHL restart this season with 11 goals and 6 assists for 17 points in 13 games. But there’s more than meets the eye when looking at his basic stats.
2021 Draft: Xavier Bourgault’s Overall Game
Bourgault’s game is centered around his awareness and anticipation. His IQ is so astoundingly apparent on the ice, and he uses it to the best of his ability. His vision with the puck, ability to be at least a step ahead on every play, and his on-ice work ethic make him a threat in every area. One area of his game that grades out extremely high due to his high-end anticipation is his transitional game.
Bourgault, as I mentioned, pairs his vision and anticipation extremely well. That allows him to read the play and almost always make the correct decisions with the puck. That is especially true in transition.
In the one game I tracked on Bourgault, he was involved directly in 12 zone exits. Of those 12, seven were cleared with possession, one was cleared without possession, and four failed to leave the zone. Of those four, however, Bourgault was quickly able to get the puck back and record one of the eight completed exits.
Bourgault was also involved directly in 15 zone entries. Of those 15, 11 were completed with possession, three were dumped in, and one failed to gain entry. Not only was he heavily involved through the neutral zone in this game, but he was super effective in doing so.
Bourgault has a knack for picking up his head and scanning the ice around him. He’s able to find teammates that are open and in a prime area to break into the offensive zone. When breaking out of the defensive zone, he uses quick, one-touch passes to a teammate nearby who is building up speed. He recognizes where the player is, where he needs to put the puck so they can keep their momentum going, and then puts it right there for them. It’s difficult to defend against because he is so quick at reading and reacting, and it shows on the stats I gathered.
Bourgault has an amazing shot. The accuracy he possesses is the best trait of his shot. His shot also has good power, though it would need work in order to consistently beat NHL goalies. But perhaps what makes his shot better than what it is on the surface is his ability to get it off from different platforms. He doesn’t need his feet to be set in order to let off a good shot. He also has the ability to slide his hands up and down his stick, depending on the situation, in order to change the angle of his shots. It also helps that he consistently puts himself in high-danger areas by exploiting defensive zone coverages in order to make the most of his shooting ability.
His passing is decent, but certainly not the focal point of his offensive game. For the most part, he cycles the puck down low to a teammate to keep possession alive, and if he isn’t cycling the puck, he keeps it simple and plays it back to the point area. Generally, what he does is line up on the perimeter and facilitate the play and control the pace. Then, when he sees an opening in the slot, he will crash the middle in the hopes of receiving a pass, deflecting a shot, or burying a rebound.
To go back to the game I tracked, Bourgault looked exactly the way you’d expect out of a smart and simple passer while maintaining the status of being a good shooter. He completed eight of 12 passes in the offensive zone, ranking him 15th for passing accuracy out of 20 players I tracked with five or more pass attempts. He also fired six shots, with five of them being put on net, which ranked him fifth for shooting accuracy out of 17 players with four or more shot attempts.
Of those 12 pass attempts, he went three-for-four on simple passes, zero-for-one on centering passes, two-for-two on cross-ice passes, and three-for-five on cycle passes. As for his shooting, he fired three shots from the slot, with two hitting the net. He also fired one shot on goal from the perimeter, and two shots on goal from the point area.
I’d be lying if I said Bourgault was a great defensive zone player. He is certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination. His ability to be a step ahead on every play gives him an advantage over most other players. The issue with his defensive game is that he really doesn’t involve himself much in the play. He will position himself well and support the defence down low. However, you won’t see him in puck pursuit or getting after the puck in the corners or along the boards.
If I’m being quite honest, Bourgault would be much better in the defensive zone if he was a winger. Again, his awareness and anticipation allow him to be in the right spots at the right time almost always. His lack of aggression will be less glaring if he was playing wing. Bourgault’s ability to support down low also helps out. He may even provide more defensive zone value on the wing with that in mind. It also puts more weight on his transitional abilities, as he does most of his work on the breakout along the boards already.
Bourgault, on the surface, looks like a player who can make a smooth transition to the NHL. Albeit in a small role, initially. His floor is higher than most others in this class, as his skill is mostly refined and mature. However, it’s fair to question his upside.
I personally don’t. His awareness and anticipation are high-end. He’s a very good skater. Bourgault also has a well-rounded offensive ability. Finally, the growing importance of the transitional game further cements his upside as a 1st line center. He most likely won’t be elite. But being a good 1st line center, or a fantastic second-line center is something that many teams would love to deploy. The safer projection, however, is Bourgault being a middle-six center with powerplay upside.
One strong comparison is Blake Coleman. Using CJ Turtoro’s A3Z performance tool, Coleman’s transitional abilities are all high-end. He uses his high-end awareness and strong skating ability to find success. The biggest difference between the two is Bourgault won’t provide nearly as much value in the defensive end. They are similar in the offensive end. Both lean more towards their shooting ability and keep it simple when moving the puck. Both of them also attack the slot when they see a play developing.
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