Bourque’s game taking shape with AHL Stars

Photo: Logan Foust

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Another weekend, another productive pair of efforts for the Texas Stars and forward Mavrik Bourque.

The points are great, to be sure, but Bourque has another mandate in Texas: developing a game that will make him a regular in the National Hockey League.

With three more points during the Stars’ sweep of a two-game set with the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins, Bourque has moved into a second-place tie in AHL scoring at 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) through 14 games. And after winning the Central Division title in 2022-23, Texas is again in first place with an 8-3-2-1 mark.

Taken by the parent Dallas Stars in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, Bourque has tallied at least one point in 11 of his 14 outings so far with Texas this season. As a rookie in 2022-23, he notched 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games; that followed a junior career that saw him total 236 points in 172 games with Shawinigan and lead the club to a Memorial Cup tournament berth in 2022.

So Dallas management knows what Bourque can bring offensively, but for the 21-year-old Quebec native, the test becomes building out a two-way game and justifying that faith from the NHL club.

Going through a well-rounded AHL education in Cedar Park has become a prerequisite for full-time employment in Dallas. For Bourque, who is up to 5-foot-10, 179 pounds, that time in Texas learning from head coach Neil Graham and his staff allows him to round out physically as well, something that he has emphasized in his offseason training.

And with the NHL club off to an 11-4-1 start, there is little reason to rush Bourque to Dallas. The Stars are tight against the NHL salary cap, of course, but patience is also a core organizational philosophy. Ty Dellandrea, Radek Faksa, Joel Hanley, Thomas Harley, Roope Hintz, Esa Lindell, Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson are among the Texas alumni in Dallas now. Even Dallas captain Jamie Benn got valuable experience for Texas during their run to the 2010 Calder Cup Finals.

Bourque is putting in the work to make himself a player that Dallas will have to work into its NHL lineup. He owns elite vision and an NHL-caliber shot. He can skate. There is a lot to like already.

But ask any player at any level of the sport. Some nights the ‘A’ game just is not there. Maybe it’s the schedule catching up. Perhaps a particular opponent is a difficult match-up. Or it’s just one of those things, one of those hockey oddities without a ready-made explanation.

That’s where consistency comes into play, and mastering it often is the thin line between becoming an NHL regular or not. What can a player bring to a team even when that ‘A’ game is not there on a particular night? Maybe it has to be the ‘B’ or even ‘C’ game that gets hauled out instead.

That is a key area of focus for Bourque with Texas.

“Sometimes as a young player you try to do more and more,” Bourque acknowledged. “You’ve got to feel the game, and when you feel you don’t have it you’ve got to grind a little bit more.

“I think the thing that’s important for me is to read the game. Sometimes it’s not going to go the way you want [so you] just keep it more simple… Don’t force a play, because if you keep forcing stuff when it’s not there, when your game’s not there, that’s when I’m going to hurt myself. Just keep it simple and play a little bit harder.”

So far Bourque has made much of his reputation with what he can do with the puck on his stick. And Dallas anticipates that this part of the game can carry on with him to the NHL. Now he is unlocking other parts of his game as well with Texas.

“If you put the puck in the net, you get an opportunity,” Bourque said, “and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

For a team that may be capable of a real Calder Cup run, they will need that along with the offense that he brings. He is following that plan.

“You might get the goal,” he continued, “[but it may also be] the chip-out or the blocked shot that is going to make your team win.”