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Bourque making impact with versatility

Gabriel Bourque has made a name for himself ever since he first stepped onto NHL ice with the Nashville Predators. He’s not the biggest guy, but he often seems to make a big difference in games for the Predators. Bourque is thriving so far this season at the young age of 22, which is a good sign for his future development with the Predators.

Bourque first stepped into the league during the 2011-12 season when he made his debut for the Predators against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 28, 2011. He made an immediate impact. Since the day he made his NHL debut, Bourque has always been one of the fastest players on the ice and one of the hardest working players.

During the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Bourque launched himself into the spotlight of the hockey world with his performance against the Detroit Red Wings. Bourque scored three goals in that five-game series against the Red Wings and was arguably the biggest difference-maker for the Predators in that series.

Fast forward to this season. All he’s done this year is lead the team in goals with 10, put some time in on the power play and penalty kill, show a sick set of hands in shootouts and lay thunderous hits on the opposition with regularity. Bourque has been arguably Nashville’s most consistent forward all season long.

“He’s been great. It all starts with his hard work. He’s one of the hardest workers on our team. He’s always going into the hard areas of the ice. He’s got a great shot and quick release, and when you combine those things he’s a big threat,” said Predators forward Brandon Yip.

Bourque is the only player on Nashville’s roster to have reached double digits in goals, and he’s done that by being in the right position. Bourque has become a force in front of the opposing net, frustrating goalies by screening them and redirecting pucks — filling Patric Hornqvist’s role while the power forward was recently injured.

Bourque has been rewarded for that effort on the score sheet.

“Just keep the play simple and go in front of the net. I think I’ve got two shots for goals. The rest of my goals have been just tips or hit me and go into the net. I just have to go in front of the net and good things happen,” Bourque said.

That simple approach has allowed Bourque to be very effective offensively for the Predators so far this season. He hasn’t scored many flashy goals, although he’s shown the capability to do that. He’s simply planted himself in front of the net and tried to make life tough for opposing netminders.

“The goalies are so good in this league. We just have to take their eyes away. If you don’t score, someone else is going to score. If the goalie can’t see the puck, the puck is going to go in. I don’t mind if I score or not. I just want to do my job in front of the net,” Bourque said.

As a second-year player, Bourque has shown the ability to play in every situation that may arise throughout the course of a hockey game. He’s spent some time on the power play. He’s been able to play on the penalty kill. Nashville’s coaching staff seems to trust him in almost all situations despite his youth.

“Bourque’s a driven guy and he’s got a lot of try in his game,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “I think as a coach, because a player has a lot of try, you have a lot more trust in him because he tries to pay attention to detail, and he tries to get better every day and pushes himself. I have a lot of trust in him. He’s a guy that will commit himself to block a shot or go to the front of the net, and he’s having success because he’s doing those things.”

Just how much trust does the coaching staff have in Bourque?

“One hundred percent,” associate coach Peter Horachek said. “He has his moments. All players are not going to be on all the time, but he has quick hands, he’s always on the puck, he finishes his checks, he goes to the net. That’s why he has the goals that he has. He does things the right way and does it with a lot of pace and a lot of speed. He’s fearless, and he does all the things that we want a player to do.”

That level of trust doesn’t usually happen with younger players, especially in Nashville. Players are groomed and developed in Nashville and often struggle to find consistency throughout their first couple of seasons. Look no further than Colin Wilson and Craig Smith. Bourque, however, has been pretty consistent since he’s arrived in Nashville. That trust from the coaching staff gives him a lot of confidence when he steps onto the ice.

“Yeah, for sure. It gives me confidence and energy every time I step on the ice. I don’t want to disappoint the coach so I just go hard and do my job,” Bourque said.

Bourque is generously listed at 5’10″, but that lack of size doesn’t stop him from bringing a physical element to his game on a nightly basis. Bourque’s motor seems to always be running on high, even if he doesn’t have the size advantage that other players around the NHL may have.

“You don’t even notice his size on the ice. He plays hard, he finishes all his checks and he battles with all the big guys. That’s something he’s probably done his whole career and something he’s definitely good at,” Yip said.

At only 22 years of age, Bourque appears to only just be getting started. He’s not the most skilled player in the world, but his work ethic is matched by very few people. That’s what has allowed him to be successful so far, and that’s what will carry him throughout the rest of his career.

The future for Bourque looks very, very bright.

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