The Great Young Hope – Bouchard out to prove himself in the NHLEvan Bouchard. Photo: Imago Sport
He wasn’t supposed to be this good. Not yet, at least. When Evan Bouchard was selected 10th overall in the 2018 NHL draft this summer, the perception was that the 18-year old defenseman was good – but not brilliant. A solid pick, but one that needed a couple seasons in the minors (or even juniors) until he was ready.
The consensus among scouts when it comes to Bouchard is that of a true two-way defenseman with good size and leadership abilities, with many projecting him to be a top pairing defenseman. Embodying the “jack of all trades, master of none” figure of speech, Bouchard is considered above average in most aspects of the game – perhaps leaning slightly more to the offensive side of the game than the defensive.
But in the short time he has been with the Oilers, Bouchard has not only managed to make the opening night roster – he’s stood out enough to impress many of his new teammates.
“He [Bouchard] is like a sponge”, fellow Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse told Eliteprospects.com during the NHL Global Series in Gothenburg. “He comes in here and just takes everything in and keeps getting better and better every single day. It’s fun to just see him continue to grow and learn. He’s going to be a huge part of this team moving forward.”
A SHIFT IN PLAYER DEVELOPMENT?
In recent years, the Oilers have shown an unwillingness to take it slow with their top tier prospects, instead favoring the “sink or swim”-approach of plunging their young players into the swift currents of the NHL.
Granted, that is likely due to the fact they’ve had so many #1 overall picks (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Connor McDavid) and because many of their picks have been forwards – a position that is considered to be easier than defense or goaltending to master at the NHL level.
With 2016 1st round pick (4th overall) Jesse Puljujärvi however, the club decided to handle things differently.
The Finn spent 39 games with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL and just 28 games with the big club in his first season. In his second season, the split was 65 games in the NHL and 10 games in the AHL. His third season – this year – he is expected to maintain a steady presence in the Oilers Top-9.
The trend continued in 2017 as 1st round pick Kailer Yamamoto was sent back to junior team Spokane Chiefs after nine scoreless games in the NHL. Yamamoto looks to have made the 2018-19 roster permanently though, but things could still change with regards to his immediate future.
Evan Bouchard was choosen 10th overall this summer.
Photo: Bildbyrån/Erich Schelgel
“THEY’LL WATCH IT ON TV”
Back to Bouchard.
The last time the Oilers selected a defenseman early in the 1st round – the above mentioned Darnell Nurse, in 2013 – they didn’t bring him on as a regular member of the team until his draft +2 year.
It was expected Bouchard would follow a similar path.
But with Edmontons defense looking dangerously thin – Andrej Sekera being out for an extended period of time again is a noticeable blow – Bouchard played well enough during training camp to earn himself a spot in the opening night lineup versus New Jersey Devils in Gothenburg, beating out fellow defensive prospect Ethan Bear in the process.
A fact that seemed to surprise the youngster himself.
“No… I hadn’t really thought about that to be honest”, was Bouchard’s sheepish answer when he was asked whether or not his parents had made the trip to Gothenburg in anticipation of him possibly making his debut. “They’ll watch it on tv if I do play, it’s not the end of the world if I don’t”
“HE WASN’T AT THE BOTTOM OF THAT PILE”
Bouchard did play.
Wearing #75, the defender played 13:57 in his first ever NHL game with 1:56 of it coming on the powerplay. He even had time to take a hard whack to the face, only to return minutes later looking none the worse for wear.
“I thought he got better as the night went on”, Oilers coach Todd McLellan told reporters after the game. “With young players, they almost have to give themselves permission to play their own game. Put it this way: we dressed six defensemen tonight and he wasn’t at the bottom of that pile.”
Welcome to the NHL, kid.
Bouchards emergence presents an interesting dilemma for an Edmonton Oilers team expected to compete this season. Do they continue the road of slow development they seemed to set out on in 2016? Or is the skill and poise of Bouchard enough to have him stay the entire season with the Oilers?
Only time will tell.
For now, Bouchard has done enough to earn the benefit of the doubt as one of the Edmonton Oilers top six defensemen.
As for his experience with NHL Global Series host city Gothenburg outside of playing hockey, Bouchard was all praise…
“It’s been cool. I’ve never been to Sweden before, so it’s been a great experience”
… except for maybe one thing:
“It rains a lot”.