SUN Hockey Pool

Bourque own worst enemy?

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:09 PM ET

Its hard to find anybody around the Saddledome who disagrees with the notion Rene Bourque could be one of the leagues best players.

The Calgary Flames winger scored 27 goals in 73 games last season. Hes big (6-foot-2), strong, fast and has a hard and accurate shot.

Hes physical, a ferocious forechecker, and strong on the cycle.

Just not every night.

When hes at the top of his game, its tough to find anybody like that in the league, Flames head coach Brent Sutter said of the 28-year-old Bourque.

Ive said this, and Ill say this again: Theres such tremendous potential there and we want to try to max it out if we can.

The if we can is the only troubling part of the talk regarding a player widely considered the future of the Flames offence.

Locked up through the 2015-16 season that pays an average of a little more than $3.3 million a year, Bourques best years are still ahead of him.

The question is whether or not he realizes how good he can be.

I think that he knows that, Sutter said. I think when we go through video ... I think he sees it.

Sutter goes on to mention the drive it takes to be that kind of elite player and that might be the last piece of the puzzle for the Lac La Biche product, who went from the NHLs first star of the week with a six-goal, seven-point stretch late last month to an afterthought in a couple of rough outings the next week.

Thats not meant as an insult. Maybe its a backhanded compliment, but when this guy gets his head wrapped around the idea he can dominate shifts at will, hell become the game changer so many see on nights when Bourque is at his best.

Those nights, even he cant ignore how well hes playing.

Well, I think when Im playing well, sometimes I have times during the game I control the play a lot. Holding the puck a lot during the shift, keeping the puck down low on my stick, not letting anyone get it out, Bourque said when pried about it.

Its not just offensively, its defensively, too. When Im playing better, Im usually playing good in my own end, getting pucks out, making passes, being physical.

There was plenty of that when he returned from injury to score three game-winning goals during victories over the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks.

But hes had a hard time replicating the performance.

Itd be tough for anyone to follow up a week like that, but statistics aside, his play has fallen off.

Sutter saw signs of it climbing again at times against Washington and it was on display in brief spurts again Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

With Jarome Iginla no longer the on-ice leader he once was, its even more important for new blood to take over.

Bourque knows what his limitations are, but in reality, his own head might be the biggest obstacle.

Im not a guy whos gonna beat guys one on one down the ice. Im more outmuscle guys, beat them to the net. Get garbage goals, score a lot of goals within 10 feet of the net, said Bourque, who doesnt even have to score to be effective when hes at the top of his game.

He can still pace a game.

And thats how he feels when hes in that headspace.

I think you just want to be a difference-maker, Bourque said. You feel like feeling the puck on your stick gives your team the best chance to win or gives your team the best chance, whoevers out there at the time, to control the game and create quality scoring chances.

Theres plenty of time for him to realize his full potential, and Bourque is entering his prime as a player, when the knowledge and confidence of experience kicks in while the body is still in great condition.

For the Flames, a big part of their future rests on that happening.

I think just from experience, being in the league for six years now, and having confidence from coaches and teammates that youre a guy that guys look up to and the team counts on to be a leader and play well every night I think you want that responsibility, said Bourque.

Its his responsibility now to finally start believing hes that guy.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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