During his varsity days at the University of Wisconsin Badgers, it could be argued that Rene Bourque was overshadowed by Dany Heatley and Ryan Suter.
Playing for his first NHL club, the Chicago Blackhawks, Bourque most certainly played second fiddle to the likes of Mark Bell, Kyle Calder and Tyler Arnason.
But suddenly, the undrafted forward from Lac La Biche, Alta., is lighting it up with the Calgary Flames, having launched himself into the stratosphere occupied by the NHL's elite production men.
While some may be surprised by Bourque's production, his teammates certainly are not.
"Well . . . I'm not surprised," forward Eric Nystrom said. "He's a prototypical NHL player. He's big. He's strong. He's really fast. He's got a great shot. He's willing to go to the dirty areas to make plays.
"He's good in the corners. He's always looking to take the puck to the net, and if he doesn't get there, there's always a rebound, and he's picking up some points that way. He's obviously got a blazer of a shot, and if he gets it off, he's got a good chance of scoring every time. I think all those things, combined, result in production."
Heading into Satruday's showdown between the Flames (7-3-1) and the Detroit Red Wings (4-4-3) at the Pengrowth Saddledome, Bourque had 14 points, including five goals, in 11 games to lead his club.
His average of 1.4 points a gam is ninth overall across the NHL.
Bourque has admitted that he's "a little bit" surprised by his sudden offensive propulsion, and the former AHL rookie-of-the-year, now 28, also calls himself a bit of a "late bloomer."
But the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Bourque also points to his presence on the Flames power play — an incentive program, courtesy of coach Brent Sutter — as a prime factor in his surprising offensive numbers.
"The power play has been hot, and I'm getting points on that," said Bourque, who has four with the man advantage. "Last season, I got a few chances here and there . . . but it's not really been until this year when I've had a consistent spot on the second unit.
"I like the challenge of being on the penalty kill, but it's always nice that I've got a chance to show off my offensive skills on the power play. Brent told me that if I played well 5-on-5, and played strong, used my size, he'd put me on. I've felt comfortable, and I've had a lot of confidence out there."
Bourque has spent most of this season on a line with center Daymond Langkow and winger Nigel Dawes, and if he keeps up this pace, he'll be in line for a sizeable raise from the $1.4 million (U.S.) annual salary he draws on his current contract, which expires next summer.
"He's got a skill set that most guys don’t have," Flames forward David Moss
said. "He's big, he's strong, he can shoot, and he can play in every situation on the ice. And you're seeing that.
"He's a great P.K. guy, he's good on the power play, and 5-on-5, he's hard to take off the puck … a really solid, all-around player."
Bourque was on his way to garnering serious attention last winter, before a high ankle sprain Feb. 19 at St. Paul, Minn., cut his regular season short at 58 games. He still chalked up 21goals and 40 points, returning for the Flames’ first-round playoff series against Chicago and notching one goal in those six games.
"When an injury is that bad, I don't think anything heals to the point where it's the way it was before," Bourque said. "But I feel confident when I'm skating. When I'm putting weight on my ankle, or trying to fight a guy off, it feels good." Author: Todd Kimberley | NHL.com Correspondent