I wouldn’t be surprised if Rene Bourque has yet to unpack his suitcases since being acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the trade that sent James Wisniewski to the Anaheim Ducks. During the current season, the 33-year-old forward has graced the rosters of no less than five teams – the Montreal Canadiens, Hamilton Bulldogs, Ducks, Springfield Falcons, and now the Blue Jackets. Is there room for such a ramblin’ man in the Blue Jackets’ future?
After back-to-back career years with the Calgary Flames (’09-’10, ’10-’11) in which Bourque scored 27 goals and 50+ points, the wheels fell off. A slow start to the 2011-12 campaign was followed by two suspensions in less than a month, all of which culminated in his trade to the Canadiens. Bourque finished the season with just 18 goals, 6 assists, and a -19 rating. Then things got worse.
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Bourque suffered an abdominal tear during the off-season and, after undergoing surgery, didn’t get his 2012-13 season started until mid-January. In the 17 games he played that year, the beleaguered Bourque managed only 7 goals, 6 assists and a -1 rating. Another sub-par year followed, then just 13 games into the current season Bourque was placed on waivers and assigned to Hamilton. His time in the AHL was rather brief, with Montreal trading him to Anaheim for defenseman Bryan Allen.
In his 30 games with the Ducks, Bourque delivered much the same production by recording 2 goals, 6 assists, and a -4 rating. Then along came the trade deadline, James Wisniewski, and the Blue Jackets.
Approaching the trade with skepticism, I saw Anaheim as the clear winners in the deal with the Jackets getting little more than roster filler with which to
tank finish the season. Head coach Todd Richards saw things a little differently:
"He’s big, he can skate, he can shoot. He has a lot of tools. Now it’s about giving him an opportunity to see what he can bring to our team."
And give him an opportunity they did. Just five days after acquiring Bourke, and sending him to Springfield, the Jackets brought him up and let him forge his own destiny. In his first game wearing the Union Blue, Bourque turned in a solid performance with four shots, a hit, and a blocked shot in 14:21 of ice time. Maybe my initial impressions of the Alberta native were all little too harsh.
Further evidence that I should take a second look at Bourque’s potential surfaced in last night’s game against the Caroline Hurricanes. As a horrid first period was winding down, Bourque put a listless Blue Jackets team on the board by redirecting a Cam Atkinson power play shot past goalie Cam Ward. Besides registering his first goal as a Blue Jacket (his third overall of the year), Bourque finished the night with 3 shots, 6 hits, and a blocked shot in 16:54 of ice time.
Not all was Swedish meatballs, however, as Bourque did manage to cough up the puck and get himself out of position on a handful of occasions. In all fairness, though, so did most of the Jackets during that first period.
Is Bourque’s performance over the past two contests enough of an indicator of what the guy has left in his tank? Of course not. But he’s done much to prove that he has the potential to earn a fourth-line spot in the Jackets’ future plans. He can skate, he can throw the body, and he can find ways to get in front of the net with a nose for the puck. He can do those things, but will he do them consistently?