Evan Bouchard — a 6’3”, 194-pound, right-shooting defenseman from Oakville, ON — checks in at #3 in this year’s Top 25 Under 25. The Oilers’ first-round pick from a year ago, Bouchard had a whirlwind draft+1 season.
He began in Edmonton after making the team out of camp before being sent back to London finish out the year with the OHL’s Knights. He was named an alternate captain for Team Canada’s WJHC outfit that finished a distant 6th, then won the OHL’s Max Kaminsky trophy as the league’s top defenseman. He then finished his year in Bakersfield, sponging some AHL playoff experience from a brief stint with the Bakersfield Condors during their run. Whoa.
Evan Bouchard looks to possess, in abundance, skills that the Oilers sorely need on the blueline. An excellent passer and a real, genuine power play threat, Bouchard stands too good a chance to make the team out of camp this season out of necessity alone. The ideal path would see him start the season in Bakersfield, and while there are likely a couple of more seasoned professionals still in front of him - guys like Caleb Jones, for example - Bouchard might be the best passer of the bunch AND he’s a natural right shot. He very well could make the Oilers in September.
What They Say
“Bouchard may not be matching his 1.3 points per game from last season but he is having another impressive season for the London Knights nonetheless. His 49 points in just 42 games played places him 12th in point by OHL defenceman and his 1.17 points per game places him third among defenders. His shooting, passing and offensive hockey sense are three of his strongest attributes and are also three things the Oilers desperately lack on their blue line. However, the young defender needs to continue to improve his skating, has to improve his defensive zone play and has to have a more consistent compete level. These weaknesses in his game have been noted since before he was drafted but were brought up again during his lackluster play at the World Junior Championship in December. It should be noted though that he wasn’t utilized as well as he could have been by the coaching staff for team Canada. Bouchard will turn 20 in October and although he has the potential to make the Oilers out of camp, there is a good chance he finds himself on the Bakersfield Condors next season.” — Jameson Ewasiuk, DobberProspects.com, March 2019
“After recording one goal in seven games to start the year with the Edmonton Oilers, Bouchard was sent back down to the London Knights. Since his return, the young defender has picked up where he left last season. His 18 points places him 20th in scoring for OHL defensemen despite only having played 13 games. His 1.38 points per game is second in the league for defensemen and 18th for all players. His impressive play has earned him an invite to Canada’s World Junior camp and at this point it would be a huge surprise if he didn’t make team Canada.” — Jameson Ewasiuk, DobberProspects.com, December 2018
“A highly intelligent all-around defenceman that plays with poise and can shift the pace of play in a multitude of ways. Showcases smooth four-way skating ability and loves to get involved in all situations - especially when that situation happens to be an up-ice rush. Has a polished offensive skill-set which includes well-timed passes and a sneaky, erratic shot. Goes with the high percentage play and makes smart decisions. Could work on strength behind his shot. Defensively active, cutting off lanes and always staying in excellent positioning. Reads cues well in all three zones and seems to stay a step ahead. All-in-all, a well-rounded defender with great hockey sense and work ethic.” — Curtis Joe, Eliteprospects.com, 2017
What We Say
Given the choice, at the time, between Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson, I have to admit I was leaning Dobson. Despite being less accomplished as a passer, his skating alone had me thinking his game would translate better to the next level.
But today? I’m glad the Oilers took Bouchard. Dobson’s draft+1 season was less impressive, and Bouchard’s trajectory hasn’t shifted much, if at all. Which is a good thing. His trajectory was already sky high, with most services projecting Bouchard as a lock for top four duty in the NHL before he was even drafted. While I’m hesitant to suggest he can hit higher heights than that, it is abundantly clear that the man’s ability to move the puck to guys wearing the same shirt is elite elite. His skating still appears to be a bit of a question mark, but it’s not like he’s David Musil, and he happens to come with top-end offensive ability to help offset some of the deficiencies in his game.
While it is often hard to project high-scoring junior defensemen at the next level, it is very much worth noting that Bouchard managed to get his at the AHL level too. A healthy 3-5-8 in 8 playoff games speaks to Bouchard’s scoring prowess, and only serves to reinforce the legitimacy of his impressive 1.18 points/game season (16-37-53) in the OHL.
Once again, Bouchard went from having the highest point total EVER for a first-time-draft-eligible defenseman in the OHL, to winning the OHL’s Best Defenseman award, to featuring in a limited role in the AHL playoffs and STILL managing a point per game. Impressive, impressive stuff. The Oilers haven’t had a D prospect this exciting — with this type of legitimacy — in some time, and Evan Bouchard will likely have a say with the Oilers in the near future.
Whether near means this fall, this winter, next spring, or next season, it’s a matter of when and not if with Bouchard.
As with a couple of guys who appeared before Bouchard in this list, training camp will determine what’s next. If Bouchard can outplay a couple of older, more experienced prospects, he’ll make the team out of camp. If not? He’ll likely form the right half of Bakersfield’s top pairing, eating minutes and being utilized in all situations.
At this point, prudence suggests allowing Bouchard to crush the AHL for one more season while he works to shore up the holes in his game and his play demands the Oilers call him back up. But, we know that prudence isn’t necessarily a buzzword the Oilers are familiar with. He stands as good a chance as any to make the Oilers out of camp, and if he does, he stands a pretty good chance of having an impact right away, too.