It’s hard to find anybody around the Saddledome who disagrees with the notion Rene Bourque could be one of the league’s best players.
The Calgary Flames winger scored 27 goals in 73 games last season. He’s big (6-foot-2), strong, fast and has a hard and accurate shot.
He’s physical, a ferocious forechecker, and strong on the cycle.
Just not every night.
“When he’s at the top of his game, it’s tough to find anybody like that in the league,” Flames head coach Brent Sutter said of the 28-year-old Bourque.
“I’ve said this, and I’ll say this again: There’s 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, Bourque’s 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 NHL’s 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.
That’s not meant as an insult. Maybe it’s a backhanded compliment, but when this guy gets his head wrapped around the idea he can dominate shifts at will, he’ll become the game changer so many see on nights when Bourque is at his best.
Those nights, even he can’t ignore how well he’s playing.
“Well, I think when I’m 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.
“It’s not just offensively, it’s defensively, too. When I’m playing better, I’m 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 he’s had a hard time replicating the performance.
It’d 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, it’s 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.
“I’m not a guy who’s gonna beat guys one on one down the ice. I’m 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 doesn’t even have to score to be effective when he’s at the top of his game.
He can still pace a game.
And that’s how he feels when he’s 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, whoever’s out there at the time, to control the game and create quality scoring chances.”
There’s 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 you’re 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.
It’s his responsibility now to finally start believing he’s that guy.