Could Edmonton Oilers prospect Xavier Bourgault, the 22nd-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, represent his country when Canada goes for gold at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship at Rogers Place, his future home? The pride of L’Islet, Que., didn’t hurt his chances at Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team summer development camp, which ran from July 28 to Aug. 4 at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex on the Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary.
Bourgault saved his best for last with one goal and two assists in the final game of the week, making highlight plays to stand out among the 26 forwards attending camp.
“It meant a lot for me,” Bourgault said after helping Team Robitaille defeat Team Williams 7-2. “I think I had good progression along the camp. I was getting better every game, every practice. I was getting more confident. So to get my (best) game at the end, I think it’s fun.”
The Killer B’s
Bourgault found chemistry with centre Zach Bolduc, who had two goals and one assist. The biggest story to come out of the game was how the Quebec natives elevated each other’s performance.
“He competes hard, skates well, he’s playing very smart also, so (he’s) doing everything on the ice, so it’s very fun to play with a guy like him,” said Bolduc, who was drafted by the St. Louis Blues at No. 17, just five picks ahead of Bourgault.
“It was a really fun game, I think I played my best game in that camp. I had a good connection with my linemate and it was very fun to play this game today.”
Bourgault wasn’t invited to Canada’s World Junior selection camp last year, nor was he part of the U18 summer selection camp roster in 2019, but he’s gained notice thanks to his play with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In 2020-21, he led all QMJHL draft-eligible players in both goals (20) and points per game (1.38).
Over three seasons with the Cataractes, Bourgault has 60 goals and 71 assists in 174 games. He has just 38 penalty minutes in his QMJHL career and last season was named a finalist for the QMJHL’s Frank J. Selke Trophy that recognizes the most sportsmanlike player in the league, showing respect towards opponents and officials and by avoiding the penalty box.
Checks Canada’s Boxes
When it comes to earning a spot on the 2022 Canadian World Junior team, the 6-foot-0, 172-pound Bourgault has a few things going for him. He’s versatile, effective at both centre and on right-wing for the Cataractes. The ability to play multiple positions is crucial at the World Juniors, as teams are often forced to shuffle their lineup due to injury or a suspension. He’s also a late birthday (he will turn 19 in October), and the Canadian Junior team is known to favour older players with more Major Junior experience.
Finally, Bourgault’s performance alongside Bolduc, who plays in the QMJHL for the Rimouski Oceanic, can’t be overstated. Hockey Canada has historically put stock in players who have a strong track record with each other, and Bolduc has been in the conversation for Canada’s 2022 forward unit.
NHL teams are always happy to see their prospects take part in the World Junior Championship. The experience of competing in a pressure-packed environment amongst the best young players and under bright lights serves a player well in his development. But Bourgault’s appearance at the 2022 World Juniors would be doubly valuable for the Oilers: their home arena, Rogers Place, will co-host the tournament. This would afford Bourgault the opportunity to expedite his acclimatization to Edmonton while being cheered on by his future fans.
The 2022 Canadian World Junior Championship roster won’t be named for another few weeks, and how players perform in the first part of the 2021-22 season will have a significant say in the matter. But it’s hard to make an impression if no one is paying attention, and Bourgault has now played himself onto Hockey Canada’s radar. He has reached this step, and Oil Country – along with the rest of his home country – will be watching to see if Bourgault takes the next one.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.