American Hockey League

Bourque looking to build on rookie season

The odds were stacked against Mavrik Bourque last offseason, but he’s taking responsibility for what was an imperfect first season in professional hockey.

Bourque dealt with injuries and challenging timing in the schedule, which forced a slow start in his debut with the Texas Stars. However, he picked up steam as the season went on and he is now determined to make this summer his best ever.

“I had a tough start until Christmas,” Bourque said of his first season in the AHL. “It took me time to figure it out, but I think as soon as I figured it out, I found my way. I’m pretty happy with what I did. It’s part of the process to spend a full year in the AHL.”

Video: Mavrik Bourque discusses growth to reach NHL.

Texas Stars coach Neil Graham said he was impressed with Bourque’s mix of patience and tenacity. He said it’s not easy for a young player to juggle all of the changes of the first season in the pros, and Bourque’s was complicated by a late run in junior hockey and then a tryout for Canada’s World Junior camp.

“It was a perfect storm for him,” Graham said of the Québec native. “Short offseason, coming into a new environment, going into the American Hockey League. You’re learning how to do everything on your own, cooking, cleaning, getting an American cell phone, American bank account. It all adds up. It’s all these things you would have done back in Quebec, and now you’re in Texas doing them in English.”

Bourque said he learned a great deal in his first season and it has given him the confidence to work even harder this summer. Graham said he pointed Bourque toward Joe Pavelski as a good role model.

“You start to realize what it really takes,” Graham said of the path to the NHL. “You get a chance to maybe watch a guy like Joe Pavelski. What does he do before practice? What does he do after practice? What does he do on the airplane when he’s watching his offensive touches. It’s a full-time job.”

Bourque played center for most of his life and had to switch to the wing last season. That requires different assignments, and he said being good along the boards was a real challenge. Now, he says he wants to get even better at it.

“I think that’s what’s going to get me into the NHL,” he said of the type of determination it takes to win board battles. “The coach needs to trust you. I didn’t play the wing until the past year and that’s what I have to work on the most.”

So how does he get better?

“There are so many good players here, so watching those guys,” Bourque said. “And for sure, getting stronger is going to help me. Just details and experience. I’m going to keep making mistakes but it’s how you answer.”

Bourque was taken 30th overall in 2020, so he has a high pedigree. After battling injuries in his last season of junior hockey, he led all leagues with a points per game total of 2.19. He tallied 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists) in 31 games, and opened the door for a bit of a fast track to the NHL.

“He’s in the conversation,” Graham said.

And after his slow start in the AHL, he finished with 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games.

“What I like about Borky is he’s a high, high character person and he matured last season off the ice,” Graham said. “That organically helped him on the ice, and by the end of the year he had 20 goals and just under 50 points in the American Hockey League as a 20-year-old. He did everything he needed to do.”

But now, he needs to do more. Bourque, who is in Frisco this week at Stars development camp, said he’s looking forward to having a hard-working summer.

“I think I’ve got to change my mentality and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

He seems to have already done a great deal of that in the past 12 months.

“You realize how good the NHL is, and then you realize how good the American League is, and you realize the amount of growth that’s needed,” Graham said. “You have to be willing to grow, and that’s what I like about Borky. Last year, he added a little each month and he saw by the end of the year how much difference that made. Now, he’s got to do the same thing going forward.”

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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