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2021 NHL Draft: Xavier Bourgault has top offensive instincts

The center can certainly be an option for the Wild in the first round.

2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup - Semifinals - Saint John Sea Dogs v Shawinigan Cataractes Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Some players just have a gift when it comes to reading defenses and making plays in the offensive zone, and it’s clear as day who those those players are. They just act with a different sort of hunger when they’re seeking out those cross-ice passes or trying to scout out a fellow attacking player in a better position — it’s almost like a natural ability that forms organically after playing hockey for so damn long.

Xavier Bourgault can be that type of player when you watch him perform in the opposition’s zone. He solves a lot of problems on the fly and can figure out where to attack and when, with some unique precision. This alone doesn’t net you as a first-round pick, but Bourgault has some ideal tools as well.

While he might not be the physical brute that some fans want, he has an amazing shot that can beat goaltenders while he’s in open ice. He was able to play with some very talented players on that Shawinigan squad that did a lot of the board battles for him, but he took advantage of the space he was given to unleash some absolute rockets — 20 in 29 games to be precise.

Bourgault is a late-first, early-second tweener that if given the right developmental tools, can be a very good pick.

Pre-Draft Rankings

#13 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

#37 by Elite Prospects

#24 by FC Hockey

#21 by Scott Wheeler/The Athletic

#29 by Corey Pronman/The Athletic

#15 by Dobber Prospects

#17 by TSN

What Scouts Are Saying

Due to his October 2002 birthday, Bourgault has the rare advantage of having just completed his third QMJHL season. In the last two of those seasons, he’s had an impressive run, with a combined 53 goals and 115 points in 97 regular-season and playoff games. He was Shawinigan’s second-most productive player in both of those seasons behind Stars first-round pick Mavrik Bourque. Bourgault’s game doesn’t leap off the ice at you but he’s dangerous in a variety of ways, with a deceptive release that comes off of his blade early in his shooting motion and stance to surprise goalies (off of either foot or from awkward postures, too) and good playmaking instincts inside the offensive zone. He’s also an able carrier who adjusts to pressure and plays through contact consistently thanks in part to good core balance over a wide skating stance — a stance which can create a bit of an A-frame and limit his speed, though I’d still qualify him as an above-average skater. He’s also a serviceable defensive player — though I wouldn’t say it’s a focal point of his game — who does a good job staying above pucks and working to win back possession. I like the overall package as a late first-round pick with a legitimate middle-six projection.

-Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

If there’s one thing that will make Xavier Bourgault stand out in a crowd, it’s likely his ability to outsmart the opposition while he plays without the puck. Although the Shawinigan forward is highly capable of transitioning the puck himself and thinking on his feet to evade congestion, his uniqueness comes in the form of regularly being one of the most reliable and productive pass outlets in the offensive zone. While his inconsistent engagement in the defensive zone presents an opportunity for improvement, many repeatable and translatable skills, such as adaptive decision making, strength, balance, and weight transfer as well as an ability to cleanly acquire bad pucks are at the core of his identity.

-Brayden Olafson, Dobber Prospects

Bourgault is a very skilled forward who has put up huge numbers in the QMJHL the last two seasons with 111 points in 92 games. He scored 20 goals in 29 games in 2020-21. Bourgault stands out with the puck on his stick. He’s confident, attempting to make difficult dekes and passes and executing at a solid frequency. At higher levels he projects to play on a power play. He’s not an exceptional skater, but he will be able to skate at an NHL level, and has shown he can make skilled plays on the move and play with pace. I wouldn’t describe Bourgault as a physical player or the first guy over the boards on the penalty kill, but he backchecks well enough and creates turnovers with his hustle. In a sentence, Bourgault projects as a middle-six NHL forward, likely on the wing.

-Corey Pronman, The Athletic

Would He Fit In With The Wild?

I think any player with even a small bead of offense compared to their defense can be used by the Minnesota Wild. Bourgault wouldn’t single handedly fix this team’s woes in the other end of the ice, but it would certainly add to a crop of young centers that have similar attributes. Both Marco Rossi and Marat Khusnutdinov are seen as highly intelligent players in the offensive zone and this youngster would add to their contributions later down the road.

Could The Wild Get Him?

With the 21st and 25th pick, I think Bourgault would be a solid pick at that level. Some rankings have him lower because he might have just recently exploded in the QMJHL and the transition to the professional level might be more difficult for him compared to other available talents. But no doubt, unless a team really loves his transitional game he put on display next to high octane wingers this season, he should be available where the Wild select.

A Minnesota Relation

A center that is able to get their teammates the puck but that mainly avoids the tough physical battle — it’s kind of an anomaly when it comes to past Wild players. Every offensively talented player Minnesota has had, possessed some form of physicality and brutish capability to retrieve the puck back using their body. Maybe the closest comparable is Mikael Granlund? I’m not even sure about that one. Maybe it was letting Mikko Koivu or Jason Zucker doing the physical battle for him and him reaping the rewards for doing so, but that player is what comes to mind first.

2021 NHL Draft Board

  1. Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  2. Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3. Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
  4. Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  5. Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
  6. Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
  7. William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
  8. Kent Johnson — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  9. Mason McTavish — C/W, Peterborough Petes/EHC Olten (OHL/Swiss)
  10. Carson Lambos — D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
  11. Aatu Raty — C, Kärpät (Liiga)
  12. Chaz Lucius — C, USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  13. Cole Sillinger — C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
  14. Sasha Pastujov — LW, U.S. National U18 team (USDP)
  15. Jesper Wallstedt — G, Luleå HF (SHL)
  16. Fabian Lysell — RW, Luleå HF (SHL)
  17. Matthew Coronato — LW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
  18. Oskar Olausson — F, HV71 (HockeyAllsvenskan/Swedish)
  19. Corson Ceulemans — D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
  20. Fyodor Svechkov — C, Togliatti (VHL)
  21. Brennan Othmann — LW, EHC Olten (SL)
  22. Zach Bolduc — C, Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
  23. Xavier Bourgault — C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)