Even though we’re still slogging through the remainder of the Thanksgiving holiday, our panelists are ready with answers about this year’s Oiler club. Contributing to our roundtable are all of your Copper and Blue favourites including Shona, Coopsie, Corey, Czechboy and Patrick.
Today’s topics? Evan Bouchard and Mikko Koskinen.
Question: Evan Bouchard has made the roster out of camp. Does he get 9 games? Does he stick around longer than that?
Shona: You know what, see the first answer. This bullshit where we take young players and throw them in the fire and say learn as you go is bullshit. Become a reliable NHL player with little to no time to grow into a responsible adult capable of dealing with the pressure this will put you under is bullshit Camp and preseason are intense yes, but I don’t believe they prepare any 18 or 19 year old kid to be an NHL player in a city as highly hockey motivated as Edmonton. If he gets more than 9 games, I think you’re long term setting him up for failure. As an organization, the Oilers should be smarter than that. I’ll say he gets more than nine games because some cookie cutter executive who has a hockey player 25 years ago likes his heart, grit, and drive.
Coopsie: There is no doubt that Evan Bouchard has a very impressive offensive skill set, in particular, his ability to transition the puck. This was obvious from his career with the London Knights and has been apparent during camp and in the pre-season games. Of course, Evan Bouchard is still just 18 years old and the developing defenseman has deficiencies in his game. From my eye, Bouchard can struggle with defensive zone coverage (being on the right side of his man), defensive zone awareness (losing his man) as well as gaps and angles. None of this is any surprise as Bouchard is a just-drafted 18-year-old d-man and the aforementioned are all attributes that will improve with age, development, coaching and experience.
Given the team’s lack of established puck movers and offensive d-men on the right side, Bouchard has a skill set the team sorely lacks. He has made higher end offensive plays each and every game, however, at the same time, he has also made plays directly leading to high danger scoring chances and goals against each and every game.
The Oilers have another young offensive-minded right shot d-man that is also developing and pushing for NHL games in Ethan Bear. Similar to Bouchard, Bear is able to transition the puck at a very high level and has defensive deficiencies that he is currently working on. With that said, from my eye, I have noticed Bear improve his defensive reliability as camp has progressed, moreso than Bouchard.
It looks like both Bear and Bouchard will be breaking camp with the team and are in direct competition for the 3RD position. At the time of writing, given recent practices and deployment against Cologne, I believe the coaching staff has Bear ahead of Bouchard to start game 1 with Kris Russell (Jason Garrison if Russell isn’t healthy enough to play). Bouchard has been holding Larsson’s spot warm playing with Klefbom but Larsson is also expected to play. If the coaching staff was planning on playing Bouchard over Bear at 3RD, presumably, they would have had Bouchard practicing and playing with Garrison over the last week to get ready.
I believe that right now Bear has the inside track on 3RD and Bouchard will be the 8th d-man that will be spot started (potentially for home games). At this point, while far from polished, Bear has shown the more reliable defensive game and that is important on the 3rd pairing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Bouchard not playing every game, it will not hurt his development to travel and practice with the team, to learn from Trent Yawney, to train and workout with the guys, etc.
I don’t believe that Bouchard will play longer than 9 games. At this point, I am uncertain as to the threshold for “a year of pro hockey” for the purposes of the expansion draft as I have been provided with conflicting information. It may be the 10 NHL games played (which burns a year of the player’s entry-level contract) or it may be 40 games on the NHL roster (which accrues a year of service towards unrestricted free agency). Either way, the organization must be very careful about Bouchard vesting a year of pro hockey. If the Seattle expansion is delayed for a year to the 2021/22 season, any player that turns pro this year will no longer be exempt from the expansion draft and, unless Bouchard is moving the needle in a material way, it would be egregious for the organization to allow him to vest a year of pro this year.
UPDATE: As per practice on October 5, Bouchard was practicing with Russell and the verbal is that Kris Russell is ready to play. I would surmise that Bear may be assigned to the AHL in order to open up the roster spot to activate Russell from injured reserve. To me, this is not a function of Bouchard proving more “ready” than Bear but a function of Bear being able to be re-assigned and re-called whereas, once Bouchard is re-assigned to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, he cannot be recalled until his junior season (and playoffs) is over, except in an emergency circumstance.
Corey: I’m not of the opinion that you ruin a player by giving him big league reps at a young age. I think Bouchard has likely plateaued in junior, and, as long as he deserves a roster spot based on his play, and you’re prepared to play him enough for his development to continue, there’s no reason not to keep him up. If he seems to be a top 6 defenceman in the organization after 9 games, he should stay. If not, send him down.
Czechboy: He should be evaluated on a game by game basis. I just don’t want him ‘learning the game’ from a pressbox. No denying he’s been very good with passing but he doesn’t look up to speed to me. I think he’ll get exposed badly by the real teams. Very hard for a Dman to come in and dominate in first year after Junior. Having said that. hope he lights up and wins the Oiler’s first Calder. I’d love him in the AHL for half a season and then a call up after the World Jr’s but he’s not eligible for that.
Patrick: He gets nine games, no more.
Question: Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli raised a few eyebrows when he plucked goaltender Mikko Koskinen from the KHL on a 2.5MM deal for 2018-19. He was quoted as saying that he added Koskinen to the roster to “challenge Talbot”. What is your realistic expectation for Mikko Koskinen this year?
Shona: Realistically, based on early play, he’s not challenging Talbot. It’s going to be a challenge for the Oiler organization to get him NNL game ready. Realistically, I see that as a contract that gives cynical Oilers fans a lot to work with this season. After all, they can’t even send Koskinen down to the AHL without his permission. I don’t see how this develops his game or helps the Oilers. I see him playing like 15 games and the Oilers struggling because they don’t have an NHL quality backup.
Coopsie: My realistic expectation for Koskinen is to provide adequate and average level back-up goaltending. He should be able to play 18-22 games to give Talbot a break and generally give the team a chance to win but I anticipate more stinkers than games he steals. I know there was a “lineup of teams” for Koskinen’s services and he has been a great KHL goaltender for a number of years (and very good for Finland internationally), however, the history of star KHL goalies coming over to the NHL does not bode well for him becoming a plus level goalie at the NHL level. I’m happy to be corrected here but, in recent memory, I can think of one such goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. The likelihood is that Koskinen provides Anders Nilsson level play.
Corey: As long as playing him in a back-to-backs doesn’t seem like a guaranteed loss, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Looking back at his signing, and categorizing it as “suboptimal asset management”, rather than “an absolute fucking garbage fire” would be good enough for me. My standards are not very high.
Patrick: I have no idea what to ever expect of goalies. I don’t know how they’re supposed to be doing what they do, so all I ever know to look at is various save% stats. His preseason wasn’t good though, I’d have a hard time imagining that he’s challenging the usual Talbot.
Thanks go to our contributors.
Don’t miss part III of our roundtable tomorrow, where our panelists will dive into discussion about Connor McDavid and the playoffs.