Over over ripe ripe? Top prospect on Edmonton Oilers repeats for fourth year in a row

Over over ripe ripe? Top prospect on Edmonton Oilers repeats for fourth year in a row

Author of the article:

David Staples  •  Edmonton Journal

Edmonton Oilers players celebrate a goal scored by defenseman Evan Bouchard (75) in the first period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 9, 2021.
Edmonton Oilers players celebrate a goal scored by defenseman Evan Bouchard (75) in the first period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Marc DesRosiers /USA TODAY Sports

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2021 Edmonton Oilers prospects
#1 Evan Bouchard

Evan Bouchard isn’t an overripe prospect. He’s over over ripe ripe.

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For the fourth year in a row, the Cult of Hockey has named Bouchard as the team’s top prospect, this time beating out fierce competition from Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg. Three of our four voters, myself, Kurt Leavins and Jim Matheson, had Bouchard ranked at the top, with Bruce McCurdy opting for Holloway over Bouchard.

Bouchard, who will be 22 in October, should likely have earned a job on the Edmonton Oilers last season, but Adam Larsson was killing it as a shut-down d-man, Ethan Bear was coming off an extremely promising rookie campaign and the Oilers had signed ace veteran attacker Tyson Barrie to run their power play with Oscar Klefbom expected out of the season.

That’s how it is in the Connor McDavid era. There’s a tendency to try to push hard to win every single year, which meant the Oilers felt they had to go with the surer thing, the veteran Barrie over Bouchard, as strong as Bouchard had played in Bakersfield as an AHL rookie in 2019-20. He put up 36 points in 54 games and looked ready for an NHL audition.

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The 2020-21 season saw Bouchard star in the fall for Sodertalje SK of the Sweden second division. He put up 17 points in 23 games. He came to Edmonton’s winter camp in 2021 in the best shape of any Oilers player and played strong hockey in 14 NHL games, but the Oilers coaches could not find a regular place for him with Larsson, Barrie and Bear ahead of him on the right side.

Bouchard’s lack of opportunity last season saw other d-men from the same solid d-man group taken in the 2018 entry draft move ahead of him in terms of NHL games played.

Bouchard, taken 10th overall, has played fewer NHL games, just 21, than 12th pick Noah Dobson, 80 games, 38th pick Alex Romanov, 54 games, 22nd pick K’Andre Miller, 53 games, 17th pick Ty Smith, 48 games, and 29th pick Rasmus Sandin, 37 games.

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But will Bouchard be an inferior NHLer compared to those players? I’m still bullish on Edmonton’s top pick. He may even overtake some of the d-men drafted ahead of him, Rasmus Dahlin, Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist.

With both Larsson and Bear now gone, the path is clear for Bouchard. Indeed, on Oilers Now in recent weeks both Oilers head coach Dave Tippett and asst. coach Jim Playfair haven’t just talked up Bouchard as a team member, they’ve indicated he’ll have every opportunity to move up into the Top 4 as the year goes along. He’s also expected to get regular penalty kill and second unit power play duty.

What’s to like about Bouchard’s game?

Oilers fans have been him in many games by now, so we all know his attributes, namely his ability to control puck retrievals, find some space and rip a perfect pass, his clever walking of the blueline in the o-zone and firing hard and accurate shots on net, everything from lobs to wristers, snap shots to slappers.

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His shot is so deadly that it’s easy to imagine him one day manning the left dot on the Oilers power play, where he can launch one-timer blasts. His defensive game is a work-in-progress, but he’s big and agile enough. If he focuses on defensive fundamentals — namely keep himself between his man and the Oilers net — he’ll be fine in a bottom-pairing role this year and maybe solid enough to move up to face tougher competition.

Regular readers of this blog will know how gutted I was when Larsson chose to leave the Oilers, but I have to admit part of me is excited to see a blueline with Bouchard and Barrie in the Top 4. During the Decade of Darkness the Oilers struggled to find d-men who can move the puck, but that’s a strength of Bouchard and Barrie, with Darnell Nurse also a strong attacker. If Duncan Keith can still move the puck, if Cody Ceci delivers in that regard, and if Slater Koekkoek plays as well as he did last year, this will be Edmonton’s best group of puck movers since the 1980s. That is a lot of “ifs,” I know, but I’m looking forward to how this group develops.

Expectation for 2021-22: That Bouchard play every game, working his way into the Top 4 by the playoffs.

Cult of Hockey prospect series

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