The Edmonton Oilers #1 Prospect Evan Bouchard has been returned to his Junior team – the London Knights.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 2, 2018
If you read my training camp report back in August, you already know I was sort of expecting this all along for some of the reasons I laid out in that article. I do think Bouchard showed very well in his limited time with the Oilers, but the areas he needed to work on never really changed during his time in Edmonton. He was and still is an offensively gifted defenceman who just needs to get a bit stronger and continue to work on the defensive side of the game.
Despite that, there were many fans and pundits that thought he still earned enough to stick with the big club:
To be fair, it seemed to be a fluid situation considering the ups and downs guys like Matt Benning and Jason Garrison had to start the season. Plus, as my friend David Staples mentioned – he brought something that the Oilers were in short supply of. Sometimes though, there are other factors at play that influence a decision like this that ultimately supersede the short sample we all get to witness. Fans, for their part seemed to be torn from game to game almost as to what to do with their prized prospect as shown by a couple of recent Twitter polls:
WHY IT IS THE RIGHT MOVE
There is no question Bouchard showed a lot of promise during his time in Edmonton. He has already shown he is a tremendous puck mover, and his poise and maturity is beyond his years. Could he have survived an entire 82 game season in the NHL? Sure, but you don’t keep a 19 yr old in your lineup to prove a point, and the reality is he was playing a limited role in sheltered minutes. Yes, the Oilers are short are puck movers, but they also need minute munching defencemen on the 3rd pair to help alleviate some of the pressure and ice-time on the Top 4. In the game versus Pittsburgh, Evan logged about 8:37 mins TOI while Oscar Klefbom was up close to 30:00. The games versus Washington & another versus the Rangers he averaged 11 minutes. That can’t continue all season for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. They need to keep guys relatively fresh and healthy. Edmonton needs guys like Kevin Gravel for example (and perhaps Ethan Bear down the road) to step in and give quality minutes. Gravel, was averaging 17 mins a game down the stretch last year for L.A. and Bear was averaging about 20 mins per game last year near the end of the season. Giving Bouchard spot starts of 11 mins or so increases the workload for others and puts added pressure on the rest of the defensive core plain and simple. If he had the option to go to the AHL he would have but that wasn’t an option so OHL it is.
EXPANSION IS A REAL THREAT
Even if you think Bouchard can’t learn much from another year in Junior and are ok with him getting spot starts as the #7 Defenceman, it’s hard to make a case that it’s worth losing a guy like Adam Larsson for example in Expansion two years from now. By sending Bouch back to Junior, you delay his Entry Level Contract (ELC) by a year meaning if Expansion happens in 2020 the Oilers do NOT have to protect him for the expansion draft that year. Meaning, if they go 7-3-1 like most teams did in the previous Vegas draft, Klefbom, Larsson and Nurse would all be protected. If they had to protect Bouchard too then the possibility of that being your Top 4 long-term would be in serious jeopardy barring a trade. Relying on a trade 2 years from now is not a wise decision and always has the chance to backfire (ask Columbus about William Karlsson).
WHAT CAN HE LEARN GOING BACK TO JUNIOR?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Bouchard has nothing left to learn in the OHL. Some fans will be upset because they feel he won’t be put in challenging enough situations and it will hinder their development. Don’t listen to them.
To that I say,
What fans like this fail to realize is this isn’t just your average CHL team he is going back to. Bouchard is going to be playing under a future OHL Hall of fame coach in Dale Hunter who has helped guide more Junior players to the NHL than any other coach of his era. He knows how to prepare guys for the NHL plain and simple. Plus, London is a much stronger team this year after unloading several veterans last season. That means, less burden will be put on Evan as they can pick and choose when to best utilize him; as opposed to just burning him out by playing him an extraordinary amount of minutes last season. This team is deep and capable of making a long OHL playoff run & hopefully – Memorial Cup appearance. There is nothing easy about that. It will be a great challenge. Not to mention, the OHL is LOADED this year with highly drafted players returned. Just look at Morgan Frost, Nick Suzuki, Owen Tippett, Jack Studnicka, Adam Boqvist, Bode Wilde & Ryan Merkley to name a few. There is nothing easy about trying to defend those 18 & 19 yr old future NHLers on a nightly basis.
Still not convinced?
Here’s an excerpt from a recent article in the London Free Press. It is an NHL scout assessing the situation:
As mentioned, Evan is heading back to a terrific situation playing under a coaching staff who know what it takes to get these guys ready for the Pros. Bouchard should have a deep playoff run in London and he will likely Captain Team Canada at the World Juniors. Both of those will provide great challenges as he continues to work on all facets of his game.
Evan Bouchard has tremendous skill and poise, and is a future staple on the Oilers blueline. He has a very high offensive ceiling in the NHL but the reality is his defensive game came as advertised – it needs work. But that’s ok, he just turned 19 years old and the potential down the road is enormous. Plus, defencemen drafted ahead of him in Quinn Hughes & Adam Boqvist are not in the NHL either. Sending him back to the OHL is the right call for all the reasons I laid out. All we need now as Oilers fans is a little patience and he’ll be back next summer before we know it.
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