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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.

      • fasteddy

        Actually if you think about it, it’s possible that an underwhelming “burned” first year can benefit a team….a player with 2 or 3 years of good numbers costs a lot more on the next deal than a player with 1 or 2 years of good numbers.

        • OilerForLife

          True, then you don’t know what you really have, and what you’re paying for. Also, some other contracts need to burn off, so the Oilers will have the money to sign him.

      • Oilerz4life

        No I know and I hear what you’re saying, never underestimate the level of incompetence of Oiler management. Am I hearing you correctly?

        What I mean to say, or should have said, and what I’m really excited about, is Bouchard to McDavid, especially under the new style of play, as long as they don’t ferment Bouchard.

        • Spydyr

          I agree Bouchard is exactly the player the Oilers need. Just let him develop properly. The Oiler have put the teams needs above player development the entire Katz era and their record is indicative on how well that works.

          • Oilerz4life

            I think at some point they will send him down. They should. But it’s hard to tell if you’re joking and being sarcastic or if you actually think the Oilers will keep him up all year.

            It would be an absolute crime if they screwed up a player like Bouchard, it’s like he has a sixth sense for making the simple pass and the whole play moves forward. He’s like Gretzky in that his thinking is already 2 or 3 plays ahead, in the opposition’s net.

            I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Chiarelli finds an LTIR replacement for Sekera, but it doesn’t look very promising.

          • Spydyr

            I think you answered your own question on will the Oilers keep Bouchard up all year when you mentioned: ‘I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Chiarelli finds an LTIR replacement for Sekera, but it doesn’t look very promising.”

            If he does not make a move with a trade or when the waiver wire heats up at the end of the preseason it would appear keeping Bouchard up is in their plans.

          • OilerForLife

            I’m 100% behind developing Bouchard. He will almost certainly be a star in the NHL, but tweaking a few things will take a little time. The polished D man will enter the NHL with a bang and challenge for the Calder Trophy.

  • The Future Never Comes

    For the two outlet passes Bouchard made that lead to two goals last game, he also was culpable for two going in our net. I feel like this season, for every time he would help faciltate a goal, there would be one in the Oiler’s net due to his defensive shortcomings. Personally, I think our forward depth is fine as of now, but I think we still need an everyday NHL defenseman, not another possibly 6 but really 7th defender. If Klefbom, Nurse, or Larsson, go down for any extent of time, our shoddy group will be even further depleted. We need a puck moving D man, let Bouchard go back to junior and Jerabek come in based on merit/injury as the 6th defenseman.

  • daryl

    There is no way Bouchard makes the Oilers the last game should have been more than enough to convince the staff he and Nurse both stunk and Bouchard made a lot of mistakes on the D side and his play without the puck was not good, he has talent but he needs to work on his D skills in the AHL so back to junior.

  • OilCan2

    Keep him on the Oilers. The OHL will only create bad habits like gliding a lot because he is playing 30 minutes per game. What is he going to learn by easily shutting down boys on the rush or in his zone? The Oilers can shelter him. Russell to his left and easy match ups. The Oilers have T Yawney to mentor him and the Knights have ???? …. a mandate to make money for the Hunter Bros. Why do you think the stupid OHL only NOT AHL rule exists?

    • Spydyr

      The Knights have one of the best managed teams in the CHL and have developed a multitude of players for the NHL. Kinda like the reverse image of the Oilers in the NHL

  • Hockeytalkguy

    If management keeps him past 9 games they are totally insane. Yes he can move the puck and yes he shoots well. The defensive side of his game needs plenty of work. In his own end he is TOTALLY OVERWHELMED. With that being said he has plenty of potential.

    • Gordoil

      Love your comment – it seems the Bloggers and media are the “smartest men in the room” a comment they seem to throw at people getting paid in the industry. Then the so called “smartest fans in the league”, another comment they throw around, jump on there band wagon. Lets just all wait and see, be entertained.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    “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”. I couldn’t agree more.
    Hopefully they learned a thing or two about developing Defenceman.

    • Wilee1

      To be fair, look at the D corps in Schultz’s time here. As much as he struggled, he was probably their second best defenceman. God those teams were crappy.

    • OilerForLife

      True, but at that time they didn’t have anybody better than him at the time, and had trouble getting players to sign here. That’s changed now, and we can develop them now. I think we have to look for answers in the here and now.

  • Corbs

    You use 29 and 98 as examples…29 seems to be working out pretty damn well. And it’s way too early to know if 98 is going to work out. As for 29 playing 37 games and only getting 9 points, there is no guarantee that the exact same thing wouldn’t have happened the following year. Maybe those 37 games of NHL experience were essential to his development. There is no way to know but I’m pretty happy with the player he’s become so I don’t see how you can argue against his development path.

    Agree that Schultz was ruined by incompetence but those guys aren’t in charge anymore.

    Let Bouchard play for awhile and then decide. No decision needs to be made today.

    • fasteddy

      I find it laughable that people suggest Shultz is something a whole lot different now….he is as far from a defensive whiz as you can get to this day. A little more confidence with the puck for sure, but very similar player to what he was before.

  • Thy Conner

    Don’t really think bouch will learn how to play defence in junior I think playing him 50 games or so and then letting watch the rest is what is best for him plus we could really use his puck moving and his bomb from the point

  • CMG30

    Sigh. Yes. Everything this article said is true.

    I don’t know why the Oilers bother to hold training camp since they’ve already decided who’s in the lineup opening night right after the summer draft has ended…

    The only way a kid coming out of the draft should make the big club is if he actually earns it by being the best option. This means that the club can’t ‘fudge’ it by having no actual alternative. They need to see what the kid can do facing off against actual NHL grade competition and have a real NHL player there also gunning for the spot to see who’s actually better for the team. It’s a tough hill for any draft pick to climb… and it should be.

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    Do they really need him this year is the question to ask. They brought in Jerabek and Gravel, I know they dont shoot right, but they along with Bear will be fighting for the 6,7, 8 positions. The coaches have to remember who Bouchard has played against, mainly rookies and AHLers, and he didn’t look good against the Jets. He doesnt get more than 4 games and is back in the OHL this year. He wasn’t making it prior to Sekera getting hurt and I dont see him getting more than a few games now.

  • oiler_head

    The fear really for me is that the Oilers will keep him, like they did Leon, so they could orchestrate a trade at the junior level from London to the Oil Kings or a playoff bound WHL team, like they did with Leon. That is what I hope they don’t do. While some may have found the reasoning sound with Leon, I still think it was detrimental to Draisaitl’s development. He looked slow and plodding when I saw him play against the Winterhawks. I would rather they give Bouchard 9 games with the Oil if its beneficial to him. Maybe he helps them gain an advantage in the beginning of the season but send him back to juniors and let him dominate and develop there.

  • bwar

    The Justin Schultz example doesn’t really count towards your narrative here. The only reason he came to Edmonton was because he wanted to be playing the the NHL and the Oiler’s were the team that offered that too him. So he’s not an example of rushing a player, he’s an example of a player forcing a teams hand.

    Yes the Oiler’s have rushed players in the past but you also can’t just swing from one extreme to the other. I think you give the kids a chance to make the team. If they are the best option for the club to win, they make the team. Now you also have to have enough competition that the roster spots aren’t just hand outs. I think the Oiler’s did make an effort to have more competition in camp and now the younger players need to beat out veterans to make the team.

    I think this whole topic is less about rushing players and more about making sure you have options in place so you aren’t forced to rush players. The Oiler’s were atrocious for the past decade plus and in a lot of these scenario’s they just didn’t have a better option then rushing players.

    • tkfisher

      Disagree. Agreeing to a handshake deal to play in the NHL is not the same expecting him to play top pairing minutes night in night out, with no shelter, out of the gates. The Oilers rushed Shultz by forcing too much too fast on his shoulders. I believe he was good enough for the league year one, with easy 3rd pairing minutes and power play time. The problem was the oilers were not good enough to only have him do that. They rushed him. End of story.

      • OilerForLife

        Agreed, Schultz deal is a over and it was a time when he was the best D man. This mistake shouldn’t be made now, and we have Bear and Jones who are closer.

        I thought that Jakub Jerabek can fit in as the 7th man, as a short fix. Bouchard needs playing time, and burning a year of his ELC would be silly. We can’t mess this up for short term gain.

  • getsome

    You hit the nail on the head! He has potential for sure but win or lose he will need the defensive game if he is ever going to be number 1 pairing. He and Nurse looked horrible together when they were in their own end. Time…please give him time.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Bouchard looks confused in his own end, that being said a lot of young d-men mixed and matched look really bad.
      A perfect example: the Jets rookie D-men a few days ago. Sometimes training camp and new pairings does that.
      How many times did we see 2 men on one side, leaving the slot wide open. It’s a darn tough position to play.

  • ricardo2000

    Bouchard apparently can’t go to the AHL because he is too young, so it’s the NHL or junior hockey. The question then becomes, ‘Where can he develop better skills, easier and more reliably?’ Will Bouchard learn to defend NHL veterans in junior? No. Will he learn NHL offensive skills in junior? No. Will he receive NHL level passing and skating skills in junior? No. Will he receive pro nutrition and physical training in junior? No. His junior club will be focussed on their team, not on Edmonton’s requirements, hopes, or dreams. Maybe the article author should consider the options more carefully.

    So, if he is really the ‘most-NHL ready’ member of the 2018 junior draft then the question is answered. He stays in Edmonton where he will receive NHL level coaching and physical training. This doesn’t mean the Oilers will throw him to the wolves and destroy his confidence. He will be coached by different people than Schultz. He won’t be expected to be Edmonton’s saviour.

    Frankly, it wan’t the coaches who crushed Schultz. It was abusive fans and pompous commentators. Anyone could go back, from the 1990’s to the present, and find one player after another that was bullied out of Edmonton by fans who thought victory was theirs by right. By fans who never got over that one year when their midget team went DEEP into the first round of the playoffs. Consider Tom Poti, Dubnyk, Hall, and Eberle: not one of these players will ever come back to Edmonton, or even Canada, because the fans made their lives hell. Sam Gagner would rather play in Vancouver than Edmonton. These players excelled somewhere else because it wasn’t Edmonton.

    Make no mistake, there are so-called ‘fans’ who booed Gretz and Mess for all sorts of stupid reasons. Passing instead of shooting (Gretzky was just selfish that way 1800 times); shooting instead of passing. It didn’t matter they were winning Cups and changing the game of hockey forever, and for better. It doesn’t matter now that juniors and pros are willing to give up their knees and legs, years of their life, a pain-free retirement, chunks of their brains to CTE, their eyes and their testicles, traumatic amputations, broken spines and bus crashes. The players are willing to give up everything for the town, the team, the Maple Leaf, the Olympics, the Cup. The Oilers have to rely on canned, pre-recorded applause because the customers would rather suck on beer and fatty snacks than cheer. Edmonton customers won’t even stick around after the game when the team takes the ice to salute fans with raised sticks. Getting out of the parking lot 5 minutes faster is worth more than standing and shouting support.

    Last year it was home performance that crippled the team. That could only happen because the customers destroyed the team’s confidence. I don’t understand this as Edmonton Minor Hockey develops so many fine players. Hopefully, the Oilers won’t play 82 away games this year. We don’t have to create a winning team with only 5 to 10 thousand REAL, small market, fans showing up to cheer teams with no winning history, or realistic chance of engraving the Cup. Unlike Vegas, Arizona, Columbus, and Florida, Edmonton fills the seats with small-minded customers; I refuse to use the word ‘fan’ for these people. This year, like so many past decades, it will be the fans who are the Oiler’s biggest liability, and potentially our fourth or fifth biggest asset. So show up, be positive, be proud, be supportive, be loud, or watch PokerStars.

    • Hockeytalkguy

      The customers destroyed the teams confidence? Poor defensive play, goaltending, brutal PK and PP were THE REASONS they were losing at home AND on the road. Plus on a whole bunch of nights the effort wasn’t stellar from a large portion of the team. By the way, 11 out of the last 12 years poker stars WAS a better option. You keep drinking the kool-aid if you have been happy with the organization.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Geez, that was harsh. I always thought if you bought a ticket and went to the game you could cheer for whoever you liked? Same rule applies for buying an $18 beer?

  • Quoteright

    I don’t like the comparison to Schultz
    He was undersized 2nd round college brat who bailed on his first team.
    Booch is a big boy.
    Lately people have been complaining about development but I think they are doing alright from Drai onward.
    Pool has not been rushed and totally sheltered, paid well, and kept mostly out of the Ahl which he didn’t like. It looks like he’s ready to fly.
    Nurse hasn’t been rushed.
    Not yamo…
    So ya chill with the negativity
    Also Booch at least has other Right d prospects to compete against (bear, jones and some spare parts)
    Remember when Petry was our only R d.

  • Quoteright

    Also
    When Shultz was rushed there was no one in front of him.
    We now have 3 solid d in Klefbom Larson and Nurse, and even Benning and Russel are better then any of the 4/5 s we had in the past.

  • Windrunner

    The Oiler brass will do what they always do. Due to positional weakness (just the offence, defence and GT) they will play the hell out of him, give him the 9 games. On a stronger structured team he would be sent back to Junior, no questions asked. Other than Connor, all first rounders the past ten years should have returned to junior. Not saying he won’t make the team, just saying perhaps he…..would be better served going back. As for Sekera, I think that there is a handshake deal with Chia to either sit out the year or retire. They need the cap space money to go get a seasoned vet. It is absolutely critical for Chia to get this team to the playoffs this year or there will be a mutiny at Rogers Place. He knows it, you know it, and there is a seasoned vet out there somewhere sweating bullets. Cuz he knows he is about to be traded here!

    • The Whispererer

      Sekera is still owed $14.5 million over the next 3 seasons. Why would he retire and walk away from that ?

      Also, he cannot simply stay on LTIR once he is physically able to play. The league, the other 30 GMs, and the doctors for the insurance company that would be paying his salary might have some say in that.

      • Windrunner

        Yeah forgot about that terrible contract too. At least this year he may sit out. That would free up the money. Not sure Sekera comes back this year. We’ll see. At any rate the D corp is a mess. Bouchard will not solve that this year

        • Danoilerfanincalgary

          Nothing out of the ordinary about Sekeras contract he is paid what others like him get paid as for Booch if he has earned the spot then let him play he would be 3rd pairing with sheltered minutes and pp time sounds about right and he easily could handle that. Why is the D corp a mess?

      • Schultz is not very good at defence when we needed to be good at defence. He went to a team with leaders and a team that didn’t spend all night in their own zone. Lock out year he was leading the league in scoring in the Ahl. Wrong team at the wrong time. He quit playing and this market let him know that we will not put up with that

        This team is different, much better on the blue and we have better leadership on this team. I trust Yawney has a big say in what happens to Bouchard.

      • ed from edmonton

        Sekera has had two major leg injuries and operations in the last two years, its a valid question whether he will be physically capable of playing at the NHL level again. With Hossa and Zeterberg both claiming LTI just because, I say its about 50/50 Sekers plays again.

  • ScottV

    Agree with Quoteright. Bouchard isn’t Shultz. Built to pick up on the d side and the team should be much more stable than in Schultz days. Nothing like trying to bring along kids like Schultz and Drai with Eakins making you SWARM.

    McL’s brand of hockey is also unstable but a lot better than swarming. Hopefully the new Asst Coaches help to get it right.

    Schultz and his handlers were also part of the problem. He was trying to hit a home run – Hall / Nuge like $6 mil contract where he needed big offensive numbers. Should have targeted a double – really working on the d side of his game, letting the o side work itself in – as a by product of doing the right balanced things.

    We really need a big one time right hand shot from the back side of the power play. The quicker we get Bouchard there the better.

  • toprightcorner

    This is the worst substantiated opinion I have seen in an ON article.

    1) Not 1 person is in todays Hockey operations when Schultz was with the team is in management now

    2) Chiarelli and company were not in charge in Draisaitl’s first season

    3) JP was the 3rd pick and was universally thought of as a player who was NHL ready. You can’t blame a team for rushing him as nobody knew he would be a slow developer.

    If you want to be concerned about the Oilers rushing Bouchard, fine, but don’t start your usual rhetoric of blaming everything on the current management when you can’t back it up.

    • Spydyr

      1) Craig (Schultz has Norris potential) MacTavish and Scott Howson but don’t let facts get in the way .

      If you are going to call out people about backing things up………..

    • ed from edmonton

      Although there is plenty to opine against in Hendo’s article you should get your facts straight. MAcT and Howson are both with the organization. Drai’s 1st season was hard to watch, but how can anyone suggest it hurt his development? Actually JP was considered not as NHL ready as certainly Mathews or Laine or even Tkachuk, but with tremendous raw talent. There was a rumour at that time that there was a significant offer from the KHL which would have been a better option for JP if he had spent the entire year in the AHL and therefore not account vs his ELC. There may have been an understanding that JP would play enough in the NHL to count as his 1st year in ELC.

  • toprightcorner

    So you are saying that after they drafted Bouchard, the first thin PC should have done is overpay in free agency for a right shot offensive dman so Bouchard could be sent back to the minors? PC has said all offseason he is looking for help on the backend but he would not overpay. If Chiarelli overpaid to fill that spot you would be ranting, but since he didn’t add anyone because he wouldn’t overpay, you are still ranting. You would only be happy if he added a right shot PP QB at a low cap hit without giving up any quality assets. I suppose the world you live in is a littel easier than real life.

  • percy

    Reminds me when Dri was struggling trying to make it his first year. Let him develop in Jr. If he needs more time then off to the AHL. Dman need more time to develop than forwards. I think they pushed Nurse to fast also.

    • ed from edmonton

      What exactly reminds you of Drai’s 1st year? Do you mean Bouchard’s 1st few exhibition games are similar in some way with Drai’s? Nurse is looking good to me.

      • percy

        Dri went back to Jr to mature into a more polished player. Like I said, to properly develop a Dman they need more time than forwards, usually…. As for Nurse I think he could have benefitted from another year in the minors. I think Nurse has the most potential. But struggles some times. Anyways it’s just my opinion.