Both this season and last season for Rene Bourque could be classified as sad, but for entirely different reasons. Last year Bourque could only be classified in one way, and that's unbelievably horrible in every way. He had some good moments on the penalty kill with Lars Eller, but at even strength he brought nothing, and he brought everyone he played with down with him.
Fast forward to January of 2013, with Bourque returning from abdominal surgery, most fans didn't expect much. Instead, we were treated to an all new player. Gone was the guy who floated around and pretended to hit people to look effective out there.
Part of that was simplified usage, as Michel Therrien designed a strategy for Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta to do most of the work, and Bourque to fly at the net with his stick down, but Bourque was working hard, and he was rewarded with goals.
Bourque is still not a great possession player, and with his limited skillset, he likely never will be. However he faced the toughest competition of the entire team, with loads of ice time at that. He faced tough zone starts, and his teammates were just the 6th best on the team.
One area where Bourque is weaker this year than last is even strength shots. It seems that he has eschewed shooting for allowing Gionta and Plekanec to take the shots, with him looking for tips and deflections. In the 17 games that he did play, this seemed to be a strategy that paid off well.
His game by rolling 10 game averages tell a nicer story for him than his raw possession numbers:
There's nothing too spectacular there from Bourque, at no point is he above the team average, but after the first couple of games, he does hover around 50% of possession in perhaps the toughest minutes any player on the Habs has played this year.
There isn't really anything to suggest top line performance out of Bourque, but I would be willing to attribute that to him playing a role that's beyond his skills. That he was able to maintain an even scoring chance differential in that scenario is pretty impressive.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of Bourque this season has been his ability to draw penalties. Bourque draws 2.3 penalties per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, continually putting his team on the powerplay. And on the powerplay, Bourque is a legitimate top 6 forward.
In spite of missing 7 games of the 24 game sample used in this review, Bourque racked up the 3rd most scoring chances on the PP among Montreal Canadiens forwards, along with the 3rd best Corsi. Bourque's goal scoring on the PP has been excellent, although it seems like he's been pretty unlucky on the assist front. Not having a single assist despite the offense he generates is almost in Sprague Ribinsoin territory.
Like Pacioretty, it's tough to grade Bourque on his performance because of the previous expectations. Bourque has improved so much over last year, that emotionally I want to give him the highest possible ranking, but he's still a limited player, one who's not optimal on the top line. As a tough minutes, top line left wing, Bourque has been average.
FIrst half grade: 7/10