The odds of Evan Bouchard making the Edmonton Oilers opening night roster weren’t great when he was drafted tenth overall this past June. Sure, the potential was great with this player, but how close was he to actually making the NHL? The answer? A lot closer than any of us realized.
Bouchard had a very good preseason for Edmonton, and made the team’s opening night roster. He played in seven games and recorded his first NHL goal, looking strong on the transition and moving the puck better than almost every other defender on the roster. Bouchard not only made the team, but he impressed in his first NHL stint.
The move to send him back to the OHL is likely to disappoint not only Bouchard, but Oiler fans as well. Bouchard flashed, and showed the potential that will no doubt make him a top-four defender one day soon. That being said, he’s not quite ready yet, and suffered through some rookie moments that cost his team goals.
That’s normal, and it’s not something that should be concerning. Bouchard is only 18 and has ample room to grow into the player that many believe he will be. The potential is there, and it showed on many occasions during his brief NHL stint.
Next stop for Bouchard? A loaded London Knights team that very well could win the OHL this coming spring. I’d expect Bouchard to be a featured player on the back-end for London while also playing a major role on the powerplay.
On top of that, I firmly believe that Bouchard will represent Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships in Vancouver. I’d expect him to play a big role on that team as well, being a featured defender for a club that is likely to be a favorite at home.
Overall, the Oilers made the right decision here. Bouchard perfectly fits Edmonton’s needs, and is a young player that is bound to be a big part of the core moving forward. It would have been easy for the Oilers to keep him around, but they did the right thing in allowing him to continue his development at the junior level.
I know Jason Garrison is a popular man right now because he scored in Thursday’s win over Chicago, but bottom line is he hasn’t been playing very well. Kevin Gravel, recalled from Bakersfield today to take Bouchard’s spot on the roster, is an option I think could provide steadier, safer play.
Gravel isn’t a flashy player and won’t push the needle, but he’s steady and can get the job done. He’s a solid PK’er, can move the puck a bit, and handle a third-pairing role without being a liability. I’m sure Todd McLellan will keep rolling with a lineup that is 4-1-0 in the last five games, but I’d have Gravel in Saturday night when the Oilers visit Detroit.