Like a preview on Broadway or an advance movie screening, there will be a sneak peek at Rogers Place this holiday season that Edmonton Oilers fans won’t want to miss.
After being named to Canada’s National Junior Team on Sunday (Dec. 12), highly touted Oilers prospect Xavier Bourgault is coming to his future NHL city for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, which is taking place in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.
Bourgault, a forward selected 22nd overall by the Oilers in the 2021 NHL Draft, will get his first opportunity to play in front of Edmonton fans when Rogers Place hosts preliminary round action beginning Boxing Day.
The 19-year-old Shawinigan Cataractes star could potentially play a huge role for Team Canada, which carries its usual “gold medal or bust” expectations for World Juniors.
Bourgault’s Sensational Season in Shawinigan
In just a few months, Bourgault has gone from vying for attention among the 51 players at Canada’s National Junior Team summer development camp to being a virtual lock for one of the 25 spots on Team Canada’s roster.
Though he performed well at summer camp, it wasn’t until the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) season got going that the 6-foot tall Bourgault began to stand out.
In 24 games with the Cataractes this season, Bourgault has 22 goals (second in the QMJHL) and 42 points (fifth). His average of 0.92 goals per game is the best in the league, and he leads the QMJHL in both power-play goals (13) and game-winning goals (five).
He’s already been named QMJHL Player of the Week twice and was named to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Team of the Week for Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, when he had five goals and four assists in three games.
Bourgault’s Return Trip to Edmonton
Bourgault’s first visited Edmonton in September when he attended Oilers rookie camp, followed by a stint in the team’s main camp.
As part of rookie camp, Bourgault suited up for a pair of exhibition games between the Oilers and Calgary Flames rookies. He was the only Oilers player to record a point in both games, picking up an assist in each.
Bourgault received an invite to the main camp and stuck with the team for a week before being sent back to junior. He was in the lineup for two preseason games, including a 4-0 victory over the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Sept. 26, in which he notched a goal and an assist.
While the L’Islet, Que., product has got a glimpse of Edmonton, Oilers fans have not yet had a glimpse of Bourgault: The rookie camp games were not open to fans, and both of his preseason appearances came on the road, in Calgary and Winnipeg.
The Team Canada and Edmonton Connection
Bourgault is one of six players on Canada’s World Juniors roster that have ties to the host city. Forwards Dylan Guenther and Jake Neighbours, defenceman Kaiden Guhle, and goaltender Sebastian Cossa all play for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Guenther and Guhle grew up in the Edmonton area, while Olen Zellweger, a blueliner with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, hails from nearby Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
Additionally, another Oilers prospect could be taking part in World Juniors 2022: defenseman Luca Munzenberger (drafted by Edmonton in the third round in 2021) is expected to be named to Team Germany.
Bourgault Looks to Join Rare Club
If Team Canada can reclaim the World Junior throne that it was forced to abdicate following a 2021 gold medal final loss to the United States, Bourgault would become one of just three Oilers prospects to win gold at a World Juniors Championship co-hosted by Edmonton.
At World Juniors 1995, Ryan Smyth, drafted sixth overall by Edmonton in the 1994 NHL Draft, had two goals and five assists in seven goals to help Canada capture gold. The winger from Banff, Alta., made his NHL debut with the Oilers less than three weeks later.
In 2012, defenseman Oscar Klefbom was a member of Sweden’s team that won World Juniors gold. Klefbom had been drafted in the first round at No. 19 by the Oilers in 2011 and would make his NHL debut in 2013-14.
Before having his career derailed by a shoulder injury, Klefbom played on Edmonton’s top pairing; and Smyth scored 296 goals an Oiler to rank fifth in franchise history, so if Bourgault can become an NHL player of their caliber, Oilers fans should be very happy.
But that’s long-term. The short term is World Juniors 2022, which is now less than two weeks away, and if Bourgault can help Canada win the championship, fans in Edmonton will be ecstatic.
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.