Evan Bouchard is stuck in purgatory.
Let me back up for a second. The NHL and CHL have an incredibly flawed deal worked out that keeps Major Junior players from playing professionally in either the AHL or ECHL before they either turn 20 years old or have played four seasons in the CHL.
Bouchard is a perfect example of why this rule is unfair to players. The Oilers’ first-round pick has a late birthday, so he’s already played three seasons in junior and he’s more than likely learned everything he can at that level. He scored 87 points in 67 games, led a London Knights team that sold many assets at the trade deadline to the playoffs, and ranked tops in the OHL in both points and shots among defenders.
That said, the NHL isn’t really a place for a 19-year-old defenceman and the Oilers could risk ruining his confidence if they threw him in the deep end at this stage in his career. Bouchard is the exact type of player who would be best suited in the AHL in his post-draft season.
Unfortunately, that isn’t a possibility. I can empathize with why the rule exists. The goal, ultimately, is to keep CHL talent around for as long as possible. CHL teams make major investments in drafting and developing teenagers and if they could all leave immediately after being drafted to fill the AHL and ECHL many of these teams would become devoid of talent. Still, it would be ideal if NHL teams could work out some kind of deal where a team like London was paid a compensation for the Oilers to put Bouchard in the AHL, given that he’s a somewhat unique case.
London Knights camp started on Monday. Bouchard wasn’t there. He’ll be attending Oilers camp in a few weeks with a genuine shot of cracking the roster.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday THURSDAY EDITION qestion. How would you handle Bouchard’s development? Do the Oilers need to take it slow with this prospect? Or has he showed enough at the OHL level already?
When Bouchard was drafted, it was said he was the next-most NHL-ready defender in the class. Obviously, No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin was the most NHL ready player in the draft, but Bouchard was the next name on the list, despite the fact he was selected at No. 10.
“Elite hockey sense, elite passer,” said one scout. “He can make any pass and he always seems to do it at the right place and the right time. Has the best chance after Andrei Svechnikov to go straight to the NHL next year (among OHLers).”
There’s no doubt that the Oilers could use Bouchard, too. Even when Andrej Sekera was healthy, the blueline lacked a right-handed defender who could create offence. This is a big year for the team coming off of an incredibly disappointing 2017-18 season. But should the fact this year is important to push the team into rushing a player when it may not be the best thing for his long-term development?
Jesse Puljujarvi, though obviously a very different player in a very different situation, came over as an 18-year-old, and it appears now that probably wasn’t the right decision. The organization seemed to learn its lesson with Kailer Yamamoto, who spent just nine games with the team before going back to the WHL last year.
What about Bouchard? Do you throw him in the deep end or take your time? Personally, I’m a big fan of the nine-game cup of coffee. It gives the player an understanding of what to work on in a setting where they can actually focus on specifics of their game without pressure.
London Knights writer Sean Patrick Ryan in a guest article at the Edmonton Journal shares my sentiments…
In my interview with Evan we talk about what a great situation it is in London and it’s important to keep that in mind if he is indeed sent back. He will still be playing with elite players and the coaching staff will do a great job of putting him in challenging situations to help develop his skill set further. It would not surprise me in the least if he actually got less points in the OHL in 2018-19 while focusing more on the defensive side of his game. You might wonder what more he could possibly do after putting up 87 points last season but it’s important to remember that when he does make the NHL he will be expected to take care of his own end first and he still needs work in that area. Expecting him to get spoonfed strictly Powerplay minutes in Edmonton while playing sheltered minutes on the 3rd pair is not really going to help his defensive game and the NHL is not a developmental league. It is a big year for Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan in terms of job stability so I find it highly unlikely they pin their hopes to a 19 yr old rookie.