In hockey, manipulating and deceiving the defense is an art form. Some of the best playmakers in today’s NHL are masters of the craft. Players such as Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner, and Artemi Panarin show how much misdirection and creativity can aid in creating space for not only themselves but for their teammates as well. One of the best players in the 2020 NHL Draft at doing exactly that is Shawinigan Cataractes forward Mavrik Bourque. The somewhat diminutive QMJHL star put up 71 points in just 49 games, good for 9th among CHL draft-eligible players. Bourque finished seventh among CHL first-year draft-eligible players in primary points-per-game and total points-per-game as well. There’s no other way to say it, Bourque produces at a high rate.
Bourque often seems like the forgotten prospect this year. His statistical profile indicates that he should be among the top players in the class. He drives results at both ends of the ice. The Shawinigan center is a menace with the puck on his stick and a pest when the puck isn’t on his stick. He has the building blocks to be a very good player in all three zones and he could be truly special as an offensive catalyst.
The bulk of the attention for the scouting community in the QMJHL went towards top prospect, Alexis Lafrenière. Dawson Mercer got some headlines, making the Canadian World Junior team helped that. Hendrix Lapierre and Justin Barron were both topics of discussion because of their injury-riddled seasons. Even Jérémie Poirier’s defensive play – or lack thereof – earned him some time in the spotlight. Mavrik Bourque, despite being on the all-name team, really seemed to slide under the radar.
Skating and Mobility
Mavrik Bourque is a player who controls the play and uses his mobility to create space. His ability to change speeds, draw defenders in and manipulate the passing and shooting lanes. While we will dive into the manipulation aspect of his game later, his skating plays a major role in what he does on the ice. The Shawinigan center is multi-directionally mobile with lateral mobility being a strength in his game. In the first clip of our video study, Bourque collects a pass at his own blueline while opening up to the middle of the ice. He anticipates the defender closing the gap and ramps down into a glide. As he glides into the offensive zone, he ramps the speed down as well to save the gap and space between himself and the defender. This allows him to feather a pass by the defender, who is now stuck in no man’s land. This change of speed can be lethal against a defender who struggles with mobility.
Despite being only 5’10”, Bourque is strong on his feet and protects the puck quite well. As we watch the shift below, Bourque helps break the puck out by pulling the puck out of a scrum on the boards. He is able to maintain control and stickhandle around a defender through the neutral zone. He is able to hold off a defender who is applying backpressure. As he cuts across the blueline, he makes a very good pass against the flow to give his teammate some space. Bourque can then be seen creeping towards the net on the backside. He rotates into the bottom of the cycle and collects the puck along the boards before emerging out of a one-on-one battle. He uses his edges to maintain mobility and then send the puck up the boards before settling in along the half wall. The puck is worked back to Bourque with an inaccurate pass that forces him into another one-on-one battle along the boards. Upon yet again winning it, he again filters the puck to an open player who is able to get another shot on net from a decent spot. His ability to stay upright and mobile while facilitating the puck around the offensive zone as the primary catalyst is key for an undersized center at any level.
Bourque does an excellent job breaking out of the offensive zone. Among the players in from the CHL that are in the five-to-twenty range in most rankings, Bourque breaks the puck out of the zone at a high rate, being relied upon heavily by the Cataractes to be a driver in all three zones. In the chart below, we see his zone exit (breakout) numbers in comparison to his peers. He is effective when moving the puck via the pass but his ability to generate so many breakouts with control is encouraging. Factoring in a player’s ability to transition the puck up ice and the tracking data of his transitions when looking at mobility is key as it displays how effective he uses his skating to impact the game. Excelling at both entries and exits is an indicator of his involvement in all areas of the ice.
Due to the fact that Bourque was so heavily relied upon in Shawinigan this season, there was certainly a tendency to attempt to do too much on his own. Whether it’s skating into a defender and not being able to get around them or whether it’s trying to thread a pass through too much traffic. As we can see below, Bourque uses his edges and crossovers to build speed through the neutral zone. His footwork and fluidity are what allows him to so easily move the puck up ice with control. While he isn’t a player who constantly skates himself into a corner or find himself losing the puck after entering the zone, it does happen from time-to-time as he is the primary stimulant for the Shawinigan offensive game.
Play Driving and Manipulation
Manipulation can be defined as the ability to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage. A better word to describe Mavrik Bourque’s game does not exist. The young Canadian center has the ability to influence defensive play through techniques such as looking defenders off or drawing defenders in to open up passings and shooting lanes. His ability to control the puck on his stick from a variety of different hand positions. From holding the puck close to his body and out front of his feet to protecting the puck to the outside with his arms extended to the outside. In combination with his agile and deceptive skating, his exploitation of defensive structures can be lethal.
The extra room on the powerplay is one of the most dangerous opportunities for a player like Mavrik Bourque. With the extra time and space, he is able to take his time and strike when presented with the optimal situation. In the video above, Bourque is along the nearside half wall and glides below the faceoff dot, creeping along the radius of the circle. This draws a defender in, who initially blocks the passing lane to the slot with his stick. As Bourque progresses along the arc of the faceoff circle, the defender has to protect the net front, flipping his stick side defense. As soon as the lane opens, Bourque is able to find his man for a pinpoint pass.
Bourque wouldn’t be half the passer he is without his insane vision. His awareness of his teammate’s positioning is awe-inspiring at times. The vision displayed when passing through levels of the defense on both the “X” and Y” axis in the offensive zone is rare to find in a prospect at this level of development. As we can see in the following clip, Bourque’s passing is crisp, accurate and deliberate. He collects the puck on a botched breakout and immediately pushes down the wall. As Xavier Bourgault (#98) rotates back to the net front, Bourque sends a pass behind a defender into the space that Bourgault is skating into in the slot. This pass instantly provides space for Bourgault to make a move on the netminder.
As stated, Bourque seems to have a total understanding of the lay of the offensive zone at all times. His precision passing applies to both north-south and east-west passing. Above we see the pass to the slot horizontally from the half wall. Below we see his pass slice through the defense from top to bottom of the offensive zone. The ability to process the coverage and identify the weakpoint is typical of what the silky-smooth playmaking center displays on a regular basis.
Often times, especially as a young player, vision is accredited to players because they show good passing ability. The definition of good passing ability that goes into my scouting is the level at which a player identifies a situation, determines what the best course of action is, and then executing on it. Vision is a key factor when considering a player’s hockey IQ. In the video below, we see a shot on net that leaves a big rebound right into the slot and onto Bourque’s stick. Rather than shooting the puck into the mess that was at the top of the crease, he identifies the blockage, spots his open man to the right of the pile, and makes the pass. His position in the slot is dangerous enough to force defenders to close in around him and with the pass slipping by, Bourque easily collects the assist.
Bourque clearly has the skill as a playmaker to be a difference-maker at the next level. His raw passing ability is very high but there are inconsistencies at times. He has a passing percentage (P%) of 77.5% which is slightly below the benchmark of 80% that most passers of his level surpass but when examining the tape, the inaccuracies often come from teammates missing passes or Bourque putting the puck into space and being slightly off rather than passing the puck into traffic unsuccessfully or giving the puck away at a high-rate. With an improving supporting cast than the one he has in Shawinigan, he could be a threat near the top of the scoring charts next season if he gets some help.
Goal Scoring Threat
Craftiness is often key for undersized goal scorers and Mavrik Bourque is no different. He doesn’t possess a massive bomb of a shot but it comes off his stick with haste. Mavrik Bourque is one of a small number of players at the top of this draft class that has real dual-threat potential. His high-level thinking allows him to find space and get into open areas when he doesn’t have the puck and it allows him to pick apart the defense when it’s on his stick.
As we watch the video above, we can see Bourque find space and strike for a goal. He wins the faceoff cleanly back. As the puck is worked onto the half-wall, Bourque is able to cross the defender’s face as the blueliner moves to protect the net front. Bourque fades back to the middle of the faceoff circles and opens up to the puck carrier. One he gets the pass, he rips a one time shot. The puck finds the back of the net quickly. Creating space is key to being a good goalscorer, especially as an undersized player. Understanding the defensive coverage, Bourque fades into the slot and settles down between three opposing players.
The following clip is one that made the rounds on the Twitterverse when it happened. Bourque is sprung for a partial break and the defender does an excellent job of backchecking hard and getting himself into position to defender the play. The issue is that with a combination of luck and skill, Bourque is able to corral the puck, spin off the defender and then fire a shot past the netminder in one motion. This isn’t a goal that can be replicated and there is no world where this should be expected but it is a very good example of how skilled, calm and controlled Bourque can be when he has to react and adapt to a goofy bounce or weird play.
Scoring off the rush isn’t an issue for Bourque. As can be seen below, Bourque is able to push the puck up ince in transition before passing it off just outside of the blueline. Immediately swerving to the royal road area of the ice, Bourque creates distance between himself and the puck carrier. This space allows him to open up for a one-time shot. Down to one knee, back of the net, no mistake.
Bourque may not every be a 30+ goal scorer at the NHL level but there is a dual-threat 25-goal scorer here who could marvel with his assists while chipping in goals here and there. His strength as a goal scorer is his ability to find that open space with his skating and hide from the defense. He does an excellent job of staying away from the opposition and fading in and out of areas to ensure that he’s always in a prime position to affect the game.
There aren’t many undersized centers and there are even less who are skilled defensively. There is a reality where Bourque can check both of those boxes despite his diminutive stature. High-end agility and quick-twitch reaction time allow for Bourque to shadow opposing players really well. He doesn’t have the strength to really push guys off the puck but he does have the strength and ability to leverage his body position to take the puck away. Identifying passing options really well, giving him the chance to alleviate pressure and escape the defensive zone. Strength will be an ongoing issue but if he can get into the gym over the next couple of seasons and he puts in some good work, he can be an above-average defensive player at the NHL level, even if it does require a move to the wing.
In the play below, we can see Bourque patrolling the net front, ensuring that the passing lanes are clear and the goalie has some help. He reads the play and jumps in as the opposing forward turns back to go behind the net. Once there, Shawinigan’s #22 was able to adequately shadow the attacker. With a good stick, Bourque disrupts the puck handler, lifting his stick and poking the puck loose. This allows him to collect the puck and send a short pass up the boards before joining the breakout. Turning the puck up ice quickly limits the amount of time that he spends in his own zone, exposing the lack of strength that is evident.
Bourque is a player that, when engaged, is a good defensive player. He understands that as a center, he is relied upon defensively in the slot and below the goalline. In the play below, we are shown a perfect example of that. He is the first forward back, putting pressure on an attacker as they collect a pass. He shadows them down into the zone before poking the puck free below the goalline. The puck is battled for and eventually pulled out by the opposition. Putting in the effort, he protects the front of the net, boxing out a defender on the backdoor. The puck is sent to the corner and Bourque pins his opponent to the boards and then chasing the loose puck before moving it up ice to a teammate who gets the puck out of the zone.
Like many young forwards, there are times when Bourque is lackadaisical and uninterested in engaging defensively. In the final look at Bourque’s defensive game, it seems only fair to show an area of improvement. At the NHL level, taking a single shift off can be the difference between a goal for or against. Bourque may eventually lean more towards the offensive side of the game but there is potential in his game to be a legitimate defensive presence with some continued coaching and development.
Sleeper Right In Front Of Us
The discussion surrounding Mavrik Bourque seems muted at times. Despite his insane flash and skill, Bourque is seldom mentioned with the top-end talent in this draft. This could be due to the fact that he plays in the QMJHL who has a bit of a barrier with the common fan because most broadcasts are in french. Alexis Lafrenière’s presence in the league also may play a role in that with all eyes on the presumptuous number one pick.
Bourque’s elite-level passing and vision are the bread and butter of his game. He has the ability to turn a game on its head with his ability to push the pace of play as an offensive catalyst. The master manipulator takes advantage of his opposition on a regular basis. His ability to play with deception at all times is what makes him special. There aren’t many players at the NHL level that have the ability to pass against the grain the way that Bourque does and if he can get to the NHL level, he will prove to be the dual-threat that he is in the QMJHL.
With the majority of projections placing Bourque in the mid-late first-round, there is a realistic shot of him being selected in the 10-15 range because of how rare his vision and playmaking is. One a team that didn’t surround him with talent, he was one of the most productive draft-eligible players in the CHL. While he likely gets selected outside of the top-10, there is a world where Bourque is a top-10 talent from the 2020 NHL Draft in five years. Mavrik Bourque is a highly intellectual offensive player who preys on his competition when they expose the smallest of weaknesses. If he is drafted by your favorite team, be patient, and enjoy the show that he inevitably puts on in your favorite team’s sweater.
Thank you for joining us for the latest Deep Dive for the 2020 NHL Draft, be sure to check out the recent Deep Dives on Cole Perfetti, Jake Sanderson and Jamie Drysdale. I also walked us through a thought experiment to explain why taking Quinton Byfield at #1 makes could make a ton of sense. Shot chart and statistics such as passing percentage and challenge rate courtesy of InStat Hockey, a top of the line video and scouting platform. For more from InStat, follow them on Twitter. For more on prospects and the NHL Draft, you can follow Tony Ferrari on Twitter.
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