The extraordinary Alexis Lafreniere commands most of the attention– for good reason– but it’s a very solid QMJHL draft class behind him this year. Dawson Mercer is typically seen as the next best, and then a wider group behind him includes players like Mavrik Bourque, Hendrix Lapierre, and Jeremie Poirier. Bourque is by far my favourite of that group; in fact, I believe there’s a legitimate argument that he’s better than Mercer. An offensive-focused centre, Bourque’s primary offensive weapons are his skating and playmaker. He’s an effortless skater, motoring through the neutral zone with ease thanks to quick feet, deft edgework, and powerful acceleration. As a distributor, Bourque checks off all the boxes: he has terrific vision, can create passing lanes, and is capable of threading passes through traffic and sticks with ease. Those are his moneymakers, but the Quebec-born forward has a highly well-rounded offensive game. He excels at handling the puck in pressure; he scored 29 goals this season; and he has great instincts as a forechecker.
Bourque was the third overall selection in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft and I’d expect him to go first overall in a redraft. He leads that draft class in points with 125, with Moncton defenceman Jordan Spence (a 2001 birthdate and 2019 NHL draft pick who went undrafted in his first year of QMJHL eligibility in 2017) and Bourque’s Shawinigan teammate Xavier Bourgault, a 2021 eligible, rounding out the top three. The first and second overall picks in that draft– Hendrix Lapierre and William Villeneuve– pale in comparison to Bourque in terms of QMJHL impact so far. The centre’s statistics stack up very well to historical CHLers. Bourque posted 0.80 primary points per game, a rate similar to players like Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennett, Kailer Yamamoto, and Shane Prince. Looking strictly at the QMJHL, Mikhail Grigorenko and William Carrier are his two closest comparables on either side, but he outproduced Jonathan Huberdeau, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nico Hischier, Anthony Mantha, and Sean Couturier by that metric. By total points per game, Bourque falls behind Couturier, Huberdeau, Ehlers, and Hischier, but still outclasses talents like Filip Zadina, Anthony Mantha, and Joe Veleno. For a passing-focused attacker, Bourque sure shoots a lot– his 4.12 shots/game this season was a higher rate than dedicated scorers like Zadina and Nathan Legare.
Let’s walk through Bourque’s game with some video, starting with those two distinct strengths: his skating and playmaking. We’ll get into both on an individual basis soon enough, but let’s start off with a few plays that combine both traits.
Take a look at the play below: he’s starting from a near stop at his own blueline, picks up enough speed to get in front of the one Halifax defender, gains the zone with control, and makes a precise feed to a teammate with opposition players around him. It’s this ability to drive the puck forward with his feet while maintaining the presence of mind to identify options and move the puck that defines Bourque’s offensive impact.
Another one– motors through the neutral zone, creates tons of separation for himself, and quickly finds a cross-ice option in space when he runs into some trouble.
Combine his skating ability with the ability to deftly spot open teammates while handling the puck, a zone entry machine is formed. He’s quick enough to navigate his way through the neutral zone and accelerate around most defenders, and when defenders eventually do get in front of him, he’s usually able to find a teammate in space to defer to. Bourque generates controlled entries at a terrific rate– he rarely turns the puck over in the neutral zone and he rarely encounters situations where he’s forced to dump the puck in. Almost every time, the forward makes it across the offensive blueline with possession.
Let’s look at his skating in a little more detail.
His quickness is instantly apparent. I’ve yet to see a QMJHL player that can pivot quickly enough to legitimately disrupt Bourque when he’s moving through the neutral zone. He’s so good at working through neutral zone structures; effortlessly putting separation between himself and the initial line of defence.
These screencaps are from the clip above. The highlighted player seems to be in good position as he begins his pivot forward– fast forward a few more strides, and Bourque is comfortably past him. We can look back to one of the plays above, it’s more of the same thing:
Begins with two opposing players in his immediate vicinity; by the time he nears the attacking blueline, one of them is way out of the picture and the other is stuck on Bourque’s back where he can’t do much.
Bourque stands out as one of the draft’s most effective transitional forwards. People love to focus on the traits that stand out– hands, vision, and shooting ability in thee offensive zone– but the neutral zone is where all offensive plays originate. Twice as much offence is created when the puck enters the neutral zone with control compared to uncontrolled entries (dump-ins); players like Bourque that constantly put themselves in advantageous offensive situations by entering the zone with control at an extremely high clip are naturally going to end up producing plenty of offence. I see no reason why Bourque’s quickness and neutral zone efficiency won’t carry over to the National Hockey League level. Weighing in at 171 pounds, Bourque is far from built. There’s plenty of leg strength to be added still. Arrange some time with a skating coach to teach Bourque to lower his base and better harness that strength and the team that drafts him should have a high-level NHL skater on their hands. His current stride revolves around the quickness of his feet– work in a deeper knee bend and increased leg strength while maintaining that stride quickness and he could be scary off the rush. I’ve clocked him at about 30 kilometres an hour going blueline to blueline with the puck (for reference, Connor McDavid can get up to speeds over 40 km/hr– the fastest he’s been measured at to my knowledge is an unbelievable 44.2) and he’ll only get faster with time. His speed is seen as a more mediocre facet of his game; I’m unsure where that comes from– Bourque’s consistent ability to outskate his opposition in transition demonstrates the effectiveness of his feet.
What sets Bourque apart from other speedsters and transitional beasts is his ability to convert controlled zone entries into points. Look at Jean-Luc Foudy– probably the fastest skater in the draft– and his unimpressive 43 points in 59 games. Foudy motors with ease right through the neutral zone, but he doesn’t have the offensive profile to legitimately threaten off the rush. Foudy takes an uncreative, relatively uncreative backhander in the first clip and is easily contained and opts for a low-danger shot from the outside in the second.
In contrast, look at what Bourque can do off the rush. He’s not just a fast skater; he has a well-rounded, high-end surrounding skillset that allows him to create offensively. That surrounding skillset is the difference between Bourque and his 1.45 points per game and Foudy’s 0.73.
Bourque’s primary offensive weapon is his playmaking. He’s a keen passer with deft vision, precise touch, and a high-paced style. His passing is an advantage in all situations– whether he’s running into trouble and needs to move the puck off, is looking to create on the powerplay, or is coming down the wing on the rush with the puck, it’s a facet of his game he can rely on as a primary weapon. A significant portion of Bourque’s value comes from his all-around offensive style. He’s a pass-first player, but Bourque is unafraid and willing to shoot the puck (as his 4.12 shots/game prove) or continue to carry it himself when a strong option isn’t available. Given multiple options, he’ll typically opt to distribute, like he does twice on the odd-man rush below. Bourque generally makes strong decisions, choosing to move the puck when he encounters pressure, carry it when he has track to wheel on, and shoot when the opportunity presents itself.
When Bourque does force plays with the puck, it’s usually a result of an absence of other options. On this next play, he puts a pass right on the opponent’s stick as a number of defenders converge on him at the top of the zone. The fewer options a player has, the more likely he is to choose a bad one.
The same goes the clip below, where Bourque rips a shot right into the defender in the lane after the opposing team does a good job taking away his passing options on the penalty kill.
On the powerplay, Bourque has an active eye for backdoor plays. He has the timing and passing touch to slide pucks through traffic, finding open teammates for easy tap-ins on the edge of the crease.
Bourque is a comfortable puckhandler that can attract defensive pressure and move the puck to space. I love this assist: he pounces on the puck, settles it down quickly as the defence converges on him, and makes a quick pass to a wide open teammate for a one-time goal.
Even when the play doesn’t quite work out, Bourque demonstrates an intelligent, space-focused thought process as a passer and overall attacker. The thought behind this next play is really terrific– pulling the two defenders towards the far side of the ice by cutting towards the middle and trying to play a pass back the other way into the newly created space.
Bourque is an intelligent and effective playmaker, combining a distribution-centric attitude with excellent touch, a great understanding of space. and acute vision for open teammates. He’s also a real scoring threat, having potted 25 goals at even strength and an additional 4 on the powerplay. That danger as a shooting comes from his quick release and dominant on-puck presence– he finds himself in the slot with the puck at a spectacularly high rate compared to most of his peers.
Bourque is an effective dual-threat forward and his ability to bury the puck adds an important secondary element to his offensive profile. He isn’t a gunner with exceptional shot velocity, but he’s an accurate shooter that can pick corners. The majority of his shots were congregated around the crease, but he can find twine from as high as the top of the circles.
He’s a creative scorer that can get shots off even with disruptive defensive pressure. Regardless of whether the puck is knocked off his stick (clip one) or a defender is more or less on top of him, Bourque manages to direct pucks on net with some success.
Bourque was a very effective even-strength scorer, potting 25 goals at evens while averaging more shots on a per game basis than every CHLer in this draft aside from Alexis Lafreniere, Connor Zary, and James Hardie. His 14% shooting percentage, one of the lowest rates among 2020 eligible top scorers in the CHL, is demonstrative of his scoring style: he doesn’t have a super devastating shot or a game centred around banging in high-danger shots from the immediate slot, but he’s a volume shooter with enough accuracy to convert at a solid clip.
I think one of the biggest questions surrounding Bourque is the position that he’ll play at the NHL level. Offensively, he’s been exceptional at the centre position throughout his QMJHL career. In his own zone though, his defensive responsibility is debatable. And in transition, it’s difficult to say where he’d be best suited. The centre position is quite obviously the most defensively conscious of the three forward placements and it’s the area that usually defines whether a forward can stick down the middle as he transitions to the NHL level. Bourque’s frequent fly-bys and dubious positional play make him a questionable option as a pivot moving forwards.
It’s plays like this one, the blatant fly-by where Bourque swings right by the puck, that turn people off of Bourque’s defensive game and effort level.
On occasion, these plays will work out for him, like how his leg gets in the way and he creates a turnover this time. More often though, they leave Bourque ineffective and out of position defensively.
Bourque can get caught in no-mans land sometimes in his own zone, caught between two areas and basically removing himself from the play. Defending the rush this time, he loses his man and ends up standing in the slot while the forward he was guarding a second before bangs in a wide open rebound.
I see Bourque on the wing and plays like these are why. His defensive IQ isn’t up to par for a centre– his positioning is inconsistent, he’s indecisive, and he can come across as straight-up lazy at times. Those weaknesses will be a lot less apparent if his defensive responsibilities are essentially limited to taking away shooting lanes from opposing defencemen and getting in position quickly for the breakout when necessary.
In the transition game, Bourque’s suitability for each position is a mixed bag. To borrow an idea from basketball, Bourque is a combo forward– not a dedicated centre or winger, but something in between. On the breakout, I think he’d be best suited as a winger. He already likes to cheat out towards the top of the offensive zone at times when his team is recovering possession–example below– and that’s a liberty that he’d have far more freedom to take as a winger rather than a centre that’s expected to do his part supporting his defencemen down low.
When the puck is changing hands in the offensive zone though, Bourque excels as the third man in on the forecheck. Traditional offensive positions morph into F1, F2, and F3 on the forecheck, but the centre is frequently the last one up the ice and becomes the last man in on the forecheck. Bourque’s positioning and instincts might fall off in his own zone, but he does a terrific job picking his spots to be aggressive and keep the offence go or play passive and fall back in support of his defencemen. He recognizes the turnover, falls back towards the blueline, and finds himself in perfect position to disrupt the breakout:
Here he is being more aggressive. Two teammates in the left corner, puck starts to move across behind the net, and Bourque activates into the play to jump on the puck. Nice pass into the slot after too, showing off that playmaking ability.
At the end of the day though, defensive play is almost always what dictates the position a junior centre ends up at. More likely than not, Bourque will end up on the wing. He should have no shortage of impact from that position though– as we’ve seen, he has a high-paced, all-around game that should translate well to the NHL stage. As he adds strength, Bourque’s skating should progress to a level where his current transitional capabilities should extend themselves to higher levels of competition. Offensively, his playmaking vision should make him a dangerous passing threat and allow him to run a powerplay unit from the left half-wall. He’s a talented scorer too, penetrating the slot and possessing an accurate, albeit not overly powerful shot. His offensive profile is extraordinarily well-rounded– Bourque lacks a concrete weakness at any offensive tool. Skating, puck skills, playmaking, scoring– all of it is at least above-average. NHL comparables often oversimplify things but for a general idea of Bourque’s playstyle, I’ve seen him compared to players like Anthony Beauvillier, Travis Konecny, or an offence-only Brayden Point. Bourque looks like he’ll be a late first rounder at the draft; he landed 26th overall on Bob McKenzie’s recently released ranking, formulated by poll of anonymous NHL scouts. Based on his skillset and historical production, he looks like a strong bet to outperform that expected draft slot. He’s talented enough for a top-six role and based on QMJHL comparables like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Nico Hischier, he could pan out to be a real building block for a team.