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Can the Oilers be cautious with Bouchard?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Oilers draft and sign a rookie to an entry level deal, they leave that player’s exact position unfilled with competent veterans, then in camp they marvel at how well he looks compared to his competition. It’s a common thread of almost every Oiler camp I can think of dating back to at least the beginning of the HOPE era of this infinibuild. This year, it’s Evan Bouchard’s turn to walk directly into a spot left wide open for him.

I want to start by saying that I was jumping for joy when Bouchard slid down the draft board right to Edmonton at 10. As a high offense, volume shooting, puck distributing, right handed defender, the Oilers couldn’t possibly have been able to mix drafting for best player available and drafting for need better than they did. This kid has every opportunity to become the kind of player that the team has always wanted.

And that’s what I’m most worried about.

We’ve seen this play out before here in Edmonton. The Oiler brass, largely still in charge today as they were then, fell in love before with the offensive skills of another right handed defender whose ability to play with the puck was significantly more refined than his ability to play without it. Justin Schultz, for all his warts, had a talent with the puck that made him unreasonably attractive to his coaching staff. It was like heroin and the staff just kept chasing the dragon wondering why they couldn’t get more and more out of him no matter how many more minutes they played him.

Ultimately the Oilers destroyed Justin Schultz by playing him over his head and for more minutes than he could possibly handle. He was broken when he left Edmonton. They traded their once golden boy to the Penguins for a 3rd round pick where they rehabilitated his confidence and brought him back to his basics. They started him off at less than 15 minutes a night and always behind Letang in minutes even after he earned his way into the top 4.

Now I’m not here to say that Evan Bouchard shouldn’t make the Oilers. I’m not saying he’s going to become Jultz reincarnated. However, I am saying that I do not have a lot of confidence that this team can show the kind of steady hand and patience required to have a player with Bouchard’s given talents and hold back from throwing him into the deep end.

This is a team that couldn’t send Draisaitl to the minors until they played him 37 games in which he only picked up 9 points. This is the team that burned a club-controlled year of restricted free agency for Jesse Puljujarvi; all for the sake of getting 28 games and 8 points out of him as a rookie. Making sound decisions with young players isn’t exactly what the club is known for.

Evan Bouchard is impressing a good number of people already with his ability to dish the puck and make plays. He has an eye for the offensive part of the game, which is why people close to the team are starting to tweet things like this:

Bouchard HAS impressed. He has a goal and an assist in his two pre-season games. Bouchard is even sporting excellent shot attempt metrics through his two matches (57.8% CF and 60.0% FF). He’s also played two games against under-powered forward lines in early pre-season. So far this September, the forwards who he has played the most against are Dillon Dube and Marko Dano. At least Dano has played in 130 games in the NHL, but neither he nor Dube are NHL regulars. He hasn’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of NHL players and it’s too premature to start talking about him making the team.

Let’s see how Bouchard does against NHL caliber forwards. Let’s see him handle the forecheck from a man who has played at least 4 or 5 full seasons in the league. How will he deal with the pace of an NHL game as rosters start to actually resemble something that he might face in mid-October? Bouchard might pass every test with flying colors or it may come to bear that he’s not ready. We just don’t know yet and I think we ought to pump the brakes on the kind of talk that builds a rookie up before he’s had a chance prove himself.

And should Bouchard make this club out of camp, I hope that this is the year the team comes up with an actual plan to protect and develop a player who is vital to their future. They cannot throw this kid to the wolves and pray for a positive outcome. And make no mistake, Bouchard’s development is necessary to this team’s long term success. They don’t have anyone like him on the right side of the ice…and that’s kind of the problem.

  • Travis Dakin

    The people that disagree with this article are like Bullwinkles. “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! This time for sure! PRESTO”

    “Again? That trick never works!”

  • EVILTED

    The correct way:
    ~ Back to junior for a full season
    ~ Bakersfield for the next full season
    ~ Oiler the third season

    You cannot rush him and force him into a position to fail. Hes not Bobby Orr. Hes just a good high pick. The plan is to not get one of those again for a long time so why rush him and take that chance?

    The Oilers Way:
    ~ Makes the team opening night for 35 games until he loses all confidence and is demoted
    ~ Struggle along to regain all of the confidence and momentum
    ~ Never live up to the ‘what should have been’ by the fan base
    ~ Draft another top 10.

    Wash, rinse, repeat bc Oilers

    • Spydyr

      I mostly agree with everything you said except:

      If he earns it give him a few games in the NHL to give him a taste and earn some scratch but as soon as he struggles and defiantly no more than nine games send him back to London.

      Bakersfield until he is ready to come up keep him in the Bake the next full season if he does not show he is ready.

      • Armchair genius

        What if he doesn’t struggle until game 37? Wouldn’t sending him down hinder his development? Not saying they should do one thing or another, only that the player will show where he will play the season.

      • EVILTED

        I know what the right way is bc I have watched this team for a decade plus FAIL at using patience in managing their draft picks. Management has been so poor at staffing a competitive hockey club that they have felt pressure or had no other option but to throw kids into the wood chipper with historically poor results. Don’t be so dopey and weird. You seem like you are very low information.

        • wiseguy

          You know that except for the #1 overall picks, the Oilers sent Eberle to Jr for 2 years, Nurse (#7 pick) to jr. for 2 years, Tyler Pitlick (#31 pick) to jr. for 1 year and AHL for 5 years, David Musil (#31 pick) to jr. for 3 years and AHL for 6 years, Tyler Benson (drafted #32)and went back to his jr. team for 2 years and 1 yr. in AHL. Of course Yamomoto who went back to jr. last year after being drafted 22 overall.
          Most kids that aren’t ready did not play. A bunch of kids that were sent down “the proper way” to “marinade” and “prepare for the NHL” never made it either. Maybe each kid needs to be assessed on his own merit and a one size fits all solution does not work.

          • bradleypi

            Isn’t it funny how when you put the facts out there, guys like eviltdd disappear. Guys like him just come on here to spout off and complain about the OBC. The Oilers have actually drafted and developed pretty good. What they fail at doing is putting a good team on the ice.

    • Finnaggled

      very silly for you all to have a prescribed “this is how people develop” template. Bottom line is, everyone is different, this kid may actually be ready, or he may not…but us(you) have no frikkin idea. As we (the fans) are all just sitting on our couches and formulating opinions based off of preseason games…and other peoples opinions.

  • Kevwan

    Whether he stays or goes back will probably have a marginal effect on the team based on his performance so far. Unless he starts blowing the doors off send him down.

    I know it’s not official yet but if he’s sent down after 9 or less games he likely won’t have to be protected in the next expansion draft either.

  • Kevwan

    The only way Bouchard should stay past 9 games is if he proves deserving with his performance in exhibition games. So far he hasn’t shown enough – imo.

    While it’s not official yet, 9 games or less likely means he won’t have to be protected in the next expansion draft either.

  • Anton CP

    In full honesty that if Bouchard is good enough to earn the start is actually a terrible thing. Bouchard is not some kind of generational defensive prospect but is someone with high potential with a bit of seasoning. Logically that he is not ready for NHL yet but if he can make the team then the team has a much bigger problem that they have to force a rookie defenseman to play. The correct way of dealing with Bouchard is to keep him in minor REGARDLESS if he can make the team or not.

    Btw, here’s a list of defensemans player on their draft year since 2008: Jakob Chychrun, Noah Hanifin, Aaron Ekblad, Seth Jones, Adam Larsson, Cam Fowler, Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, and Luke Schenn.

  • Quoteright

    He should stay if he’s better then all the others competing for the 3rd right d.
    The culture of the best players staying is important so do your best to pick the best and if the best is only 19 so be it.

  • Himynameistaylor

    Just because we blew it with Schultz doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for Bouchard. They’re similar players but you have to keep in mind- Schultz was 25 when he signed here. He HAD half a year in the minors and was already more or less what he was projected to become.

    Yeah Pittsburgh got more out of him and that’s great- but they had adequate right handed shots that were already considered vets and also had Letang in his prime.
    Add to that defence corps for the penguins- Hainsey, Streit, and the best centre depth in the league at the time between Crosby, Malkin, Bonino and Cullen. And centres are pretty important defensively.
    A pretty good group if you ask anyone.

    The problem when Schultz got here is he was already playing top four minutes out the gate with no sheltering. None whatsoever. He was literally paired with Nikita Nikitin regularly.

    Bouchard has the opportunity to earn his spot out of camp. He’s a freaking huge 18 year old. I think he’s 6’ 3” and 205 already. That’s 3 pounds lighter than Drew Doughty and 3 inches taller.

    I see no reason to be in a panic over what the oilers do with him. He maybe earns a role on the third pairing. Great. Good for him. But that’ll be all he earns. I can’t see him taking Larsson and Bennings spot in the top four unless he /really/ impresses.

    We’ll see how he does. He’s exactly what the team needs and I’ve seen a lot of his highlights since he was drafted.

    I can’t see the Oilers playing him if he doesn’t earn it. I don’t think Trent Yawney and the new coaching staff would want that.

    • Big Nuggets

      How many of his lowlights have you seen? Just keep a balanced perspective is all anyone is saying here. Most 18 year olds are not ready for the NHL. His size has minimal bearing on his ability to step into the league so it doesn’t nees to be brought up every second comment. The NHL is a different league than junior and anyone playing in the NHL needs to play to that level. The NHL requires faster reads defending and faster reads moving the puck both of which are unrelated to size. Not to mention different reads all together regarding what to do with the puck as there will be different systems to learn and different styles of play used by NHL teams. If Bouchard can handle that this year great. If he can’t handle the change then his 6’3 frame is irrelevent.

      • wiseguy

        And so how will he develop this “faster reads defending and faster reads mixing the puck” playing a 4th year of junior against slower, smaller, younger and less talented players than he played against last year as he is another year older and bigger.
        The only way he learns is to play in the NHL as the AHL is not an option this year.

        • Big Nuggets

          The NHL is not a development league. We are hopefully building a team to win games which means there is no room for projects in the line up. If he makes the team on merit that’s great. If not let him develop the same way everyone else does.

  • BouchardTheR_etard

    The only way Bouchard stays if he gets down on his knees and spreads his cheeks. We all know what kid of c_ocks_ucker he is.
    Klefbom can play with his moms t_ampon

  • Ben918

    There are many players that have started their NHL career right after being drafted and have done great. To say Bouchard is better off in the CHL for another year is really just a best guess. He is a great player and could very easily transition his game to the NHL seamlessly. Still the odds are that he will take a few years to be a real impact player for the Oilers. It is just the way with defencemen, they statistically take longer to develop than forwards of comparable skill.

    I think that the Oilers brass needs to take a serious look at their team and specifically EVERYONE that is not Nuge, McDavid or Draisaitl. Its not a playoff team and Bouchard is not going to change that even if he miraculously starts his career playing like a top 2 defender.

    The best bet is to send him down to start. Then you have the 9 games he can play in a season saved for when Klefbom gets injured later in October. I am pretty certain he will see some games this year but playing him more than 9 would be a mistake. Like the blog said, there is a wide open spot for him as the Oilers have no decent RHD. Still that is Chiarelli’s mistake, not Bouchard’s responsibility.