Defenseman Evan Bouchard broke camp with the Edmonton Oilers last month, but had a hard time actually getting into game action. Now, Bouchard has played six games and collected four points (1 g, 3 a) for an Oilers team desperate for mobility from the blue line.
It didn’t take long for Bouchard to become an everyday option for Dave Tippett. Now, the veteran coach will have a hard time taking the rookie defenseman out of his lineup. It’s a good problem to have when a young right-shot defender is developing right before your eyes.
“We finally got him in where he’s playing every game,” Tippett said to reporters on Tuesday. “He’s playing and not thinking about what he’s doing. He’s a highly-talented, instinctual player. When he’s just playing and not thinking too much, his skills take over.”
One of the areas that GM Ken Holland wanted to address this past off-season was mobility from the point. He also wanted to improve his team’s transition game and puck moving ability. It’s a big reason why he signed Tyson Barrie to a one-year contract in October.
While Bouchard does provide those things, it’s important that the young defender doesn’t get too complacent. There are plenty of areas that still need some work.
“That being said, last night (Monday) he had eight shots on goal but there’s some stuff he’s still got to continue to improve in. The defending part of it and positional part of it,” Tippett continued. “Just tying up men in front of the net. There are things like that that he’ll continue to improve at. He’s a young player that as he continues to gain confidence, it looks like he’s becoming a better and better player every game.”
Learning those points of the game comes with experience. That said, it helps to have a mentor or two that can pull you aside and explain things, or even point stuff out in-game on the bench. Veteran Adam Larsson appears to be one of those guys for young Bouchard.
“It’s up to us older guys to kind of calm them down and make sure they think about the next shift,” Larsson said. “Forget about what happened out there and just learn from it. Learning is something young guys really have to learn. You almost have to learn (how to) to learn. You will do mistakes, it’s how you respond after mistakes. That’s something us as older guys can help those young guys with.”
Bouchard’s man, Blake Wheeler, beat him to the front of the net on Monday and deflected home the winning goal in a wild 6-5 affair. Tonight, Bouchard will look to learn from his mistake as the Oilers fight for a split with the Jets.