After a year off from hockey, Gabriel Bourque is back. The Montreal Canadiens may still be focused on their Stanley Cup pursuit, but GM Marc Bergevin and company know opportunity when they see it and have locked in the NHL veteran and Quebec native for the 2021-22 season. Locked him into an AHL contract that is. It is the Laval Rocket who have announced the signing of Bourque to a one-year deal. After a year away from the game, Bourque will have to prove that he can still be an impact player by at least starting the season in the minors.
Bourque, 30, was unable to find an NHL contract last off-season and without much of a PTO market and a then-unknown future for the AHL in 2020-21, the experienced winger opted to take the season off rather than jump to Europe for the first time in his career in the midst of a pandemic. This is not as unusual as it may seem, as a number of players did the same thing. Included in that list is a fellow established NHL veteran in Brian Boyle, who after suiting up for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships is also hoping to make a comeback next season. Bourque also struggled through a lingering lower-body issue in 2019-20, so health may have played a part in his decision as well.
Don’t be surprised if Bourque pushes for more than just a full season spent in the minors, though. A veteran of over 400 NHL games who has also topped 100 points in that time, Bourque is a proven NHL commodity. Since turning pro in 2010-11, the versatile wing has played in at least half of his NHL team’s games in six of nine seasons, including 50+ games played in each of the three seasons leading up to his gap year. A two-way forward with a strong turnover differential and good checking ability, Bourque is an asset as a bottom-six forward. Both the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche kept him around for several seasons as a result, before a one-and-done stay with the Winnipeg Jets. If the Canadiens find that they are impressed by his play in training camp or suffer a bottom-six injury during the season, it would not be a shock to see Bourque get bumped up to an NHL contract. There is also potential for a partnership beyond next season for the local product and the team.