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By the OilKnight 03/18/19

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courtesy of NHL.com

Evan Bouchard was drafted in the 1st round in 2018 by the Edmonton Oilers. He became the first right shot defenceman the Oilers took in the 1st round in 11 years (Alex Plante). At the time, he was viewed as a future Top pairing, offensive defenceman capable of quarterbacking the Powerplay for many years to come. He had a monster draft year in which he put up 25 goals & 87 points, albeit as a late 1999 birthday. There were many people pushing for him to stay in the NHL full-time as a 19 yr old rookie, but ultimately the Oilers sent him back to the OHL. It was the right move in my opinion as I illustrated here.

Bouchard went on to play 45 games for the Knights in his draft+1 year, and scored 16 goals & 53 points. He also helped lead them to a 1st place finish in the Western Conference – their first since 2012-13. In December, he was also named an alternate captain for Team Canada at the World Juniors, who unfortunately had a disappointing 6th place finish. It was a busy year for the man they call “Bouch”, and that’s not counting the tough OHL playoffs he has yet to face. He got better in some areas as a prospect, but also has other areas he still needs to improve on as he turns pro.

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Strengths

Bouchard‘s shot is elite NHL caliber. He generates tremendous power on his slapper, and he keeps it low and accurate. It’s why he is such a threat on the powerplay. His wrist shot is also deadly and accurate. He gets such good torque on it and has a quick release. His head is always up and he is so good at adjusting angles & changing delivery points that it makes it extremely difficult for defenders to stop. He also has this unique hybrid of a shot/pass where he almost lobs the puck at the net, but with such precision and at the flick of the wrist. It’s perfect for deflecting or throwing the goalie off altogether since it looks so non-chalant coming off his stick but has some real zip on it. I like to call it the “Sauce-Shot“. It’s a real weapon.

Hybrid shot/pass (both included in highlight reel)

Bouchard’s puck moving & passing abilities really make him such an important player for the Oilers in the future, as he is elite at both. He has such great vision with his head always up he just reads the ice so well. He excels at making that first pass on a breakout. He is also fully capable of making that long stretch pass on the tape like he so often did with Formenton last 2 years, and will with McDavid in the future. His ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone in transition with speed and hit a streaking winger on the fly is exceptional. Because his shot is so deadly and well respected, he is more than capable of faking it and dishing a quick feed down low for a one-timer. If he were in Edmonton right now, he’d the best puck mover & passer on the team hands down.

Bouchard‘s poise and maturity are also exceptional. He handles himself like a pro on and off the ice, nothing seems to rattle him. He is such a calming influence it was no surprise he became captain of the London Knights during his draft year. Nothing seems too big a task for him he just takes it all in stride. He can settle things down defensively with the puck, and has the ability to bounce right back after he makes a bad play. Calm & cool under pressure should not be confused with lackadaisical & disinterested.

Bouchard’s skating is probably the biggest debate among pundits but in my opinion it is a strength. His top end speed is very good. Once he gets going he can really move. He has a slight hitch in his skating when he’s carrying the puck but he still does a very good of pushing the pace & shows enough agility to walk around guys. In the CHL Top prospects combine testing in 2018, he finished 2nd behind Noah Dobson as the fastest skater backwards ahead of guys like Ty Smith so that’s important as a defenceman. I think where he could improve is his first couple steps while accelerating. That explosiveness could certainly get better and could be an area of focus in off-season training.

Here are the highlights showcasing his strengths from the 2018-19 season:

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Weaknesses

Like any prospect, Bouchard also has areas he can improve on as he turns pro and continues to work on his game.

Really, the only area he really needs to work on his on the defensive side of the puck. He needs to get better in all facets of that part of the game. His positioning needs work, how he attempts to block shots need work, how he attempts to box out guys and tie up their sticks need work. Basically, he almost needs a complete overall of his defensive game. That’s not to say he’s not a good prospect or can’t get there quickly. He just needs to really focus on getting better in his own zone to be a successful NHL‘er and he knows that.

That being said, I thought Bouchard held his own in his try-out with Edmonton earlier in the year. There were some hiccups along the way but he seemed to hold up well though wasn’t given a lot of minutes. His defensive reads need to improve but most importantly, I think just his overall intensity and competitiveness in his own zone should be the main focus. He needs to be tougher to play against & attack the puck carrier more aggressively rather than just watching them dictate the play to him. Do a better job of taking away passing lanes & making better defensive reads will certainly help. In London, he showed a bit more willingness to get physical, he took more penalties, and he showed more chippiness even after the whistle. More of that is needed as he moves on but he’s starting to making progress. Overall, he just needs more time to focus on being a complete defenceman because again, he’s already got the rest of his game figured out.

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Projection

There’s no doubt Bouchard will be able to contribute offensively in the NHL. In fact, you could argue he was fully capable of doing so this season despite getting sent back to the OHL. But the reality is, you have to be able to take care of your own zone first in the NHL as a young defenceman. Offence is great but if you struggle defensively, you’re hurting your team and the coaching staff can’t fully trust you. Despite some nice offensive flashes during his short term in Edmonton, the defensive inefficiencies in his game were apparent. Which is fine and totally expected from a 19 yr old rookie defenceman. The fact he still needs work defensively as he turns pro is not a shock either. It’s not easy to play defence in the NHL, especially as a teenager.

So moving forward to next season, it would be great if the Oilers could resist temptation and send Bouchard to the AHL to work on the defensive part of his game. Even if it is just for 25-40 games or so. Just don’t pencil him into the EDM starting lineup unless he shows drastic improvements over the summer. Edmonton is now in a great situation in that their farm team the Bakersfield Condors really have something special going on there. There is no rush to get him to the NHL now especially with guys like Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear & Joel Persson (all can play RD) all seemingly capable to step in to contribute right away. Let Dave Manson work with him defensively & help develop that side of the game. That’s what the AHL is supposed to be for. Otherwise, if you force him into the NHL you may end up with a Justin Schultz situation of having a guy playing who still isn’t ready and needs to work on the other facets of his game. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Bakersfield Assistant Coach Dave Manson.
File / Global News

Now, Former NHL GM Craig Button caused some hoopla earlier in the year when he listed his Top 50 Prospects and does not have Evan Bouchard among them. While I think that was absolutely ridiculous, David Staples of the Edmonton Journal did a great job of summarizing things here. There were some names on that list that simply should not be there, unless you think a defenceman taken in the 4th rd out of Minnesota-Duluth who had 4 goals & 23 points, is a better prospect than the most recent 10th overall pick in Bouchard. Clearly, Button had some other agenda here ripping into Evan and comparing him to Griffin Reinhart, which is nothing short of comical. But it was just his opinion which I disagree with completely (and often do), so take it with a grain of salt.

As far as NHL comps go, I stated before he was drafted, after he was drafted and continue to make the comparison. Evan Bouchard reminds me so much of a John Carlson who I had the pleasure of watching up close here in London years ago. Carlson was so mature and poised for his age, he never seemed to get rattled. He was also an excellent skater who had a big shot on the PP. Like Bouch, Carlson was also prone to costly mistakes defensively at times, but you could see once he got better at that part of his game he would blossom into a well-rounder star in the NHL. Another important note is, Carlson played in the OHL in his draft+1 year, then was sent to the AHL in his draft+2 year for more seasoning. He did manage to get some NHL games in late in that 2nd year. That seemed to work out ok for him. In fact, another bonafide NHL defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, got sent back to the OHL two straight seasons after being drafted and he turned out fine. I see Evan Bouchard following a similar path and ultimately becoming a star in Edmonton just like those two, as long as the Oilers remain patient with him.

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