The Edmonton Oilers dipped into the OHL with their first round pick for the first time since 2015. That pick worked out pretty well, as the club walked away with forward Connor McDavid. This past June, Edmonton didn’t select a generational talent but did walk away with a very strong defensive prospect.
The Oilers used the tenth overall selection on Evan Bouchard, a star defender for the OHL’s London Knights. Bouchard is a right-shot defender with a big time shot, powerplay ability and puck moving acumen. Basically, this is an 18-year old version of the player the Oilers have seemingly been chasing for years.
Edmonton, without Andrej Sekera due to injury once again, is going to need some help on defense. Does Bouchard have a chance to fill that role? You better believe he’ll get a chance to make his mark in camp in just a few short weeks.
So…..Just Who Is Evan Bouchard?:
Bouchard is a 6’2” right-shot defender who will turn 19 in October. He’s an older, more mature prospect for his draft group and is closer to the NHL because of it. He’s a complete defender, with the ability to move the puck, help on the powerplay and start the transition from the defensive end. He might not be ready right away, but Bouchard has all the tools to be a top-four defender in the NHL during his career.
He posted an astounding 87 points (25-62-87) for London in 67 games last season. That was good for the most points by a defender in the OHL, beating out Vegas prospect Nicolas Hague by nine points. The next closest OHL defender points wise from the 2018 draft? Ryan Merkley, who posted 67 points in 63 games. That’s a 20 point difference.
Is Bouchard an impact defender in the making? It certainly looks like he has the tools to be just that. If he is, Edmonton is set for the long-haul, with Bouchard joining the likes of Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse. This is such an important prospect for the Oilers.
Here are some words on the young rearguard:
The Draft Analyst: Big-bodied offensive defenseman with excellent passing skills who can orchestrate a power play as good as any blueliner from any of the last several NHL drafts. Bouchard immediately became the leader of not just London’s defense corps, but of the entire team after the Knights traded away most of their bigger names at the OHL’s trade deadline. His overall game has steadily developed to the point where he’s been logging around 30 minutes a night while matching up against top lines. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a smoother North American puck distributor, especially one that makes difficult plays look routine. His shot is very hard, and it’s most effective when he keeps it low enough that goalies plunk the rebounds right into the low slot.
Offensively, Bouchard delivers a consistent effort with his puck management and playmaking, though the prevailing knock on him appears to be average straight-line speed. The good news is that Bouchard is nimble for his size, plus he has excellent timing and awareness to eventually outmaneuver pressure and join the attack deep into enemy territory. His feet are quick enough to maintain a tight gap while back-skating, and his massive wingspan and long, active stick help limit the number of times an onrushing forward breezes past him. Bouchard has top-pairing potential with the skills and smarts to be a big point producer at the NHL level.
What Can We Expect?:
Bouchard is going to get a real look in training camp this fall. Edmonton needs help on defense and this is a player who perfectly fits what the club is lacking. Bouchard can help when it comes to the powerplay, and he can help with the club’s transition game. Both of those areas were issues for the 2017-18 Oilers.
I think Bouchard will get an honest look in training camp, with the Oilers hoping he shines like Kailer Yamamoto did a year ago. The club has enough depth in the form of veterans to send Bouchard back if he doesn’t look ready, but I think they would prefer he shows well in preseason contests.
It wouldn’t be a shock if Bouchard got a few regular season games, either. He very likely goes to Europe with the Oilers, and likely sticks with the team during their stint on the east coast to follow that trip up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played in a handful of games.
Overall, the smart money is on Bouchard getting a taste, then heading back to the OHL. He’ll be the number one defender in London once again, play for Team Canada at the World Juniors and be ready to roll next season.
I think a strong camp and preseason, combined with an NHL taste and another dominating OHL campaign should be the expectation for Bouchard this coming season.