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The 2020 Copper & Blue Top 25 Under 25: #3 Evan Bouchard

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The #Oilers true top prospect, Evan Bouchard’s ceiling is sky high after a successful start to his professional career.

2020 AHL All-Star Classic Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Drafted 10th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, D Evan Bouchard is once again, per our staff at least, the Edmonton Oilers’ top overall prospect in the 2020 Top 25 Under 25.

Evan Bouchard

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SHONA COREY MATT PRESTON JEFF IRA
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Last Year: #3

As you can see, nobody here placed Bouchard any lower than fourth, with a couple of us preferring the incumbent impact-NHLers above him and couple of us placing him directly behind arguably the most dangerous player any of us have ever really seen.

And for good reason.

Since his draft in 2018, Bouchard has gone on to rout the OHL to the tune of 16-37-53 in 45 GP, make the AHL all-star team in his only opportunity with 7-29-36 in 54 GP, and is currently one of two 20-year olds (the other being Oilers prospect — and #8 on this year’s T25 U25 — Raphael Lavoie) in the top 25 in scoring in Sweden’s second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan with 6-11-17 in 23GP.

Impressive.

That Bouchard can find the time to operate at such an elite level while paying serious attention to the state of his lawns only serves to cement the elite, elite talent we’re looking at here. That he can skate at all after a lifetime on those knees and hips is a testament to his will, and should be considered when anyone points to his mobility as a concern moving forward. You can replace old hips, after all. That he sometimes forgets the names of his grandchildren absolutely should not — and does not — factor into the overall picture. And, sure, while it’s been a battle for his family to have Zoom calls through the pandemic with him because, for the life of him, he just can’t seem to figure out technology, Bouchard has met every reasonable expectation in terms of his production and overall game since he fell to the Oilers in 2018. His potential on draft day was that of a star, and his performance since has only reinforced that notion. Evan Bouchard is going to be an NHL player and he’s given us every reason to believe he’ll be an extremely good one when he finally does stick with the Oilers.

Don’t believe me? Feast your eye holes on these scouting reports:

Evan Bouchard: Simply put, no Oilers’ prospect outside of the NHL had a better 2019-2020 season than Bouchard. To briefly describe his campaign last year, Bouchard was tied for second on the Condors in points, had more than double the points of the Condors’ next defender, he was third in all AHL rookie defender scoring, 11th for all rookies and he was 10th in all AHL defenseman scoring. The offense has always been the name of the game for Bouchard but it is good to see him make a smooth transition to the pro level. This season, the young rearguard has been loaned to Södertälje SK of the Allsvenskan and has one goal and 25 penalty minutes in two games to date. Bouchard will have a chance to find a place on the Oilers’ third pairing as early as the start of the season especially if the team opts to move on from Benning and/or Russell. If the Canadian defender is on the Oilers, do not be surprised to see him on the top power-play sooner rather than later.

- Jameson Ewasiuk, Dobber Prospects

It tracks then that we’ve got him tops among the non-NHLers on this list. Bouchard was drafted to be a stud and has been a stud at every stop since.

Then there’s this quote from The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, who posted a wonderful — and significantly more valuable than mine — analysis of Evan Bouchard’s development near the end of October. It includes a ton of video and analysis of the good and bad of Bouchard’s game, and concludes with this:

An updated evaluation of Bouchard’s game reveals that though he’s probably never going to take a massive leap forward in some areas, his game has progressed in some pretty clear ways.

His skating, through his footwork more than his pushes, has improved, helping him escape pressure in his own zone, lead more rushes, and create in motion more often in the offensive zone.

From a decision-making perspective, he’s standing around less than he used to and trying to mix in a series of fakes more than he used to. That has helped him make plays with more delay and intention, instead of having to rush passes or shots all of the time, though he has always done an excellent job at executing through those quick passes and shots (and will continue to).

Ultimately, he’s not a perfect player. But he’s also not a liability in any one area anymore, and his game now has more variety than it did, which will be key in his next step, a step I believe he’s now ready to make — the NHL step.

- Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

It is genuinely worth subscribing to The Athletic for Wheeler’s articles on Bouchard (and he did a similar profile on Raphael Lavoie, too) alone. Check them out if you have the means.

Ultimately, that Evan Bouchard managed to land above Ethan Bear — arguably the Oilers’ best defender in 2019-20 — in this year’s iteration of the Top 25 Under 25 speaks to how highly we regard his ceiling around here. Yes, his recent results have been great, but Ethan Bear’s were great too, and at the NHL level in high-leverage situations. He even had to lug Darnell Nurse around all year and still he came out looking good. That Bouchard still eclipsed Bear on our list after Bear’s 2019, and considering his path to full-time NHL work likely relies on a trade (or the continued and rapid degradation) of Adam Larsson.

Otherwise, I can’t see Bouchard making the team ahead of any of Larsson, Bear, or Tyson Barrie out of camp. I don’t know that I believe his being the 7D here would be a better landing spot for him than a return to his all-situations, minute-munching status in the AHL, and I don’t see Ken Holland leaning into a guy like Bouchard over any of the incumbents as it stands today. Not that I necessarily believe that’s correct — I have time for Bouchard ahead of Larsson, myself, especially if it’s bad-back Larsson — but I don’t see the decision-makers feeling the same way, and I think Holland’s default is minor league percolation. Look for Bouchard to return to North America for main camp, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t stick just yet. Just remind yourself that if he doesn’t, it’s more likely a function of the three* NHL RHD in front of him and Ken Holland’s penchant for letting guys cook in the minors than it is anything to do with Bouchard.

At least, in a normal year:

Bouchard starting in California still seems most likely to me under typical roster conditions, but with the talk of expanded rosters for the 2020-21 season, Bouchard does stand every chance of being with the Oilers from the start, and for the duration of the season.


* Includes good-back Larsson.