Hockey fans in Edmonton that tuned into the 2022 Memorial Cup on Tuesday (June 21) may have felt some internal conflict. While they definitely would have preferred a better outcome for the Edmonton Oil Kings than a 4-3 loss to the Shawinigan Cataractes in Saint John, N.B., those same fans likely couldn’t help but be excited by the performance of the game’s first star, Cataractes forward Xavier Bourgault, one of the top prospects of the Edmonton Oilers.
Bourgault, the Oilers’ first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, was named the first star of the game after notching a goal and an assist in the first game of the Canadian Hockey League championship tournament for both the Cataractes and Oil Kings.
It was quite the way for Bourgault to re-introduce himself to Edmonton fans, who generally have limited exposure to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and therefore might not be aware of just how much the Shawinigan star has elevated his game since being selected by the Oilers with the 22nd overall pick last July – or even in the six months since his last appearance in Edmonton, lasting less than one game with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship before being knocked out of action after taking a hit to the head against Czechia (the 2022 World Juniors was eventually canceled because of COVID-19, and will now be contested at Rogers Place in August).
Bourgault Had Incredible 2021-22 Season
In just 43 regular-season contests with the Cataractes (he missed games both being away with the World Junior team and then as he recovered after being injured), Bourgault racked up 36 goals and 39 assists and ranked fifth in the QMJHL with an average of 1.74 points per game. Despite playing significantly fewer games than other players populating the QMJHL leaderboards, Bourgault ranked third in power-play goals (17) and seventh in game-winning goals (7).
Bourgault then scored 12 times and added 10 assists in 16 playoff games as Shawinigan captured the President’s Cup as QMJHL champions for the first time in team history. He led the league in playoff game-winning goals, scoring the deciding goal in five of the Cataractes’ 13 playoff victories.
Shawinigan’s 4-1 triumph over the Charlottetown Islanders in the QMJHL Championship series punched the Cataractes’ ticket for Saint John, and in his Memorial Cup debut Tuesday, Bourgault didn’t disappoint. It would be hard for an Oilers fan to have watched even just a few shifts and not come away with eager anticipation for his arrival in the NHL, which may not be far off.
Bourgault Shows Variety of Abilities
The many elements of his game were on display in Shawnigan’s win against Edmonton; the 6-foot center tied for most points (two), shots (five) and the best plus/minus rating (plus-1) among all players on both teams. Bourgault’s stats pop off the page, but only in live-action can his hockey IQ and decision-making with and without the puck be appreciated.
Granted, this all must be taken within context. The Memorial Cup is the pinnacle of domestic competition in junior hockey, but it is still just that: junior hockey. This isn’t even in the American Hockey League (AHL), let alone the highest level of pro.
What’s Next For Bourgault
The next few days will be Bourgault’s last ones with the QMJHL club he first suited up for at age 15 in 2018. In March, he signed a three-year Entry-Level Contract (ELC) with the Oilers, and he’ll be playing pro next season.
In an appearance on TSN 1260 radio on Wednesday (June 22), Oilers general manager Ken Holland remarked that Bourgault will be with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. But if you squint hard enough, you can see Bourgault in the NHL, even just getting a brief look in 2022-23. The Oilers are pretty solid now when it comes to organizational depth at forward, so he won’t be rushed into the NHL before he’s ready. If anything, he’ll probably be overripe by the time he arrives.
Before all that, Bourgault will look to help Shawinigan capture its first Memorial Cup. The Cataractes are next in action Thursday (June 23) when they take on the Hamilton Bulldogs, who are 0-1 thus far in the tournament.
The L’Islet, Quebec native is also eligible to suit up again for Canada at the World Juniors later this summer, so Bourgault is on his way to Edmonton one way or another, sooner or later. Stay tuned.
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.