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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Bouchard, nine games, and a potential expansion draft

Despite being 19 years old and looking like he’s 30, the Oilers Evan Bouchard is playing good, like, really good.

It’s not often that teams bring in rookie defencemen right out of the junior leagues and it’s not often they step into the NHL as an effective player.

Evan Bouchard, only five games into his NHL career, is an effective player for the Oilers now.

Take the game against the Nashville Predators for example. McLellan and the coaching staff played Bouchard in 14:02 of time on ice in all situations leaving him with a 72.41 per cent CF rating (+21/-8), the best on the team.

That number is elevated due to his 2:34 powerplay time which saw him boast a 87.5 per cent CF, going +7/-1.

Bouchard has yet to notch his first NHL point, but it’s not without trying having fired eight shots on net in five games — third on the team. One will eventually go in.

Through last night’s game, Bouchard has played 56 minutes of 5v5 TOI in five games boasting a positive corsi ratio of +54/-43, good for 55.67 per cent.

On top of that, Bouchard WOWY (with you/without you) numbers show that any defenceman the Oilers have on their roster is better with Bouchard, than without him, at least when it comes to shot metrics.

Evan Bouchard 5v5 WOWY CF stats, c/o Natural Stat Trick

The young defender is passing the eye test, too. He’s spending time on the powerplay and he is moving the puck very well up and down the ice — something we knew to expect from him.

Arguably, he might be the best PP1 defender the Oilers have. He moves the puck as well, if not better than anyone else and he’s got a strong shot.

The Nine Game Mark

With five games under his belt, the Oilers have a tough decision ahead of them as they need to decide if Bouchard is good enough to stick in the league all year, or if they should return him to the London Knights.

Truth be told, he will light up the Ontario Hockey League if he returns. If he’s already showing this well in the NHL as a rookie, how will he do in the OHL? My guess is very good.

If he stays, however, it could cause long-term implications on the Oilers and the makeup of the roster.

When the next expansion draft happens when Seattle gets their team (as it seems many in the league expect), the Oilers will likely lose a defenceman, depending on the year they enter the league.

If Seattle enters the league in June 2020, we wouldn’t have to protect him as he has played two or less pro seasons.

If they enter June 2021, then we would have to protect Bouchard as he would be out of his entry-level deal and would have over two years of pro hockey under his belt.

In saying that, the Oilers would likely lose one of Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson or Bouchard if Seatlle enters in 2021-22. However, if they enter in 2020-21, the Oilers would be safe.

The latest we know is that the team is aiming to play by 2020-21, meaning should he stay up this season, the team would be in a tough position.

After all, it might not be until 2022-23 when a new team could enter the league and that would make the point mute, forcing him to be protected.

The Oilers will be facing a tough decision in the coming weeks.

Do you return Bouchard to the OHL and take away a potential risk of losing a top-four defenceman in the expansion draft, or do you keep him in the NHL, where he is starting to show he can already play?

My take

It goes without saying the next four games Bouchard plays in will be the tell-tale sign on what’s to come for him.

I’m of the mentality that if Bouchard plays and the coaching staff is comfortable playing him, then he should stay. The expansion draft is still a few years away and the Oilers would have time to make decisions on the teams back-end.

In theory, when the expansion draft comes, the team could go the eight skater route protecting Lucic (NMC), Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse and Bouchard.

This of course, could be complicated if the team decides to keep Yamamoto up in the NHL this season, forcing a tough decision to be made. It would also leave Pulujarvi out of the mix which is less than ideal.

Only time will tell what will happen and who knows — this roster makeup could be a lot different by the time Seattle enters the league.

  • OilerForLife

    Oilers lost to arguably the top team in the NHL, there no reason for panic. Rising in the NHL is not an easy task we need to relax and enjoy the journey.

  • TKB2677

    While it is important to keep the expansion draft in mind a little, it is not set in stone when the expansion draft will take place yet. It could be in 2 seasons or more. So with that in mind, shouldn’t winning game be the most important thing? If Bouchard is one of your best 6 dmen for this season do you seriously sacrifice potentially winning games just to be able to maybe not have to protect him? I think that is crazy. A lot can happen in 2 years, let alone longer. I have always been of the mindset that Bouchard should get his 9 games and then eventually get sent back to junior. I would space those games over a longer period of time if possible to give him as much time with the Oilers as possible. I see value in being up with the big club. There is value in getting to watch games, there is value in getting to practice against NHLers, there is definitely value in being in meetings and getting time with Yawney. Eventually I see Bouchard going down and Bear taking his place. But if he ends up playing really well and being one of the Oilers best 6 this year, you don’t worry about the expansion draft.

  • Ten Long Years

    How many times have we seen an 18 year old play outstanding in their first 9 and then drop off once they’ve hit the jackpot? Huge motivation for these guys and they usually can’t keep it going. Hes too young.

    • TKB2677

      I don’t disagree with you one bit. Making the jump from junior is HUGE and the games only get tougher as the season goes on. Personally, I think he should eventually go back to junior and replace him with Bear once his 9 games is up.

      • QuitForRealThisTime

        Agree…the thing is he is older and like Laing said he is probably to ood for the league. I think it was Strudwick that suggested he play a season in Europe, I am inclined to agree. Play against men, get paid and get some culture.