Oilers play it safe with decision to pick Bourgault, pass on Wallstedt

The Edmonton Oilers used their 22nd overall pick to select Xavier Bourgault at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

If history remembers the Edmonton Oilers’ selection in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft by the name Xavier Bourgault, a fan base will be happy.

If it is remembered for the guy they chose not to take — Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt — then it will be recorded alongside Shane Doan, Zack Parise, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry, all players Edmonton passed on before missing with their own first round selection.

And so, we wait.

Two picks after trading their first-round choice — No. 20 overall — to the Minnesota Wild for picks No. 22 and No. 90, the Oilers drafted Bourgault, a forward from the Shawinigan Cataractes who has 53 goals in his last 92 QMJHL games. The Wild took Wallstedt with their newly acquired pick, a goalie many scouts had rated as the top netminder in the entire draft.

“We decided to take a highly skilled forward. That was the decision we made at the time,” explained the Oilers’ director of amateur scouting, Tyler Wright. “We work at this all year long. We do our due diligence, put guys in order. Were we opposed to taking a goalie in the first round? No. But we took a highly skilled forward (instead).”

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Wright would never say it, but one got the impression that if Edmonton Oil King Sebastien Cossa had been available, they would have opted for the goaler ahead of the forward. But that’s a sense, not a for sure.

Here’s what we do know about the Oilers’ feeder system: They are pretty well stocked in defencemen, and not so laden with goal-scoring forwards. That makes Bourgault a sensible pick — a six-foot, right-shot centreman/winger with big offensive upside.

“I am a player who can score goals and also make plays. Very good at both (ends) of the ice,” said Bourgault, a native of L’Islet, Que, a town of just over 4,000 people along the shores of the St. Lawrence River in Southern Quebec. “I talked with every team, but the interview with the Oilers was one of my best. I’m so happy (to be picked) by the Oilers.”

What we don’t know is if the Oilers are set in goal, with a farm system inhabited by 23-year-old Russian Ilya Konovalov, 21-year-old Olivier Rodrigue, or perhaps 22-year-old Stuart Skinner. Nor do we know if Wallstedt will be the goalie some think he may be.

So Edmonton played it safe with their first-rounder, nabbing a guy who has a quick, accurate shot and can score from a distance. He projected in the high teens or low 20s by most draft experts, but those same folks also questioned his footspeed.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

“He’s a high-skilled offensive player,” Wright said. “We’re projecting him as a top-six forward. He can play centre, he can play the wing, has good size, excellent vision and excellent skill. He’s a student of the game and a very mature young man. He has his priorities in order as far as off-ice training.”

“I am a guy who likes to train,” said Bourgault, the son of a hair stylist and a father who works the night shift in a foundry that supplies the Ford Motor Co. “I get serious in everything, but I also like tennis and golf in the afternoon after training. Some wake boarding, too.”

Bourgault was the 13th-ranked skater among North Americans, and chosen 14th in that selection group.

And remember, the third-round pick accrued on Saturday will give the Oilers picks in Rounds 3, 4, 6 (2) and 7. That third-rounder might be quite a study in this weird draft, a pandemic lottery conducted by scouts who had very few viewings of some of these players since March of 2020.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Wright said, “trying to figure out what we’re going to do. There was probably more banter that you had to decipher, whether it was right or wrong. You work all year on your list and in the end you’re at the mercy of the picks that go ahead of you.

“No, it wasn’t normal by any means,” he concluded of this 2021 NHL Draft. “But the past 19 months haven’t been normal, so this kind of fit the bill.”

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