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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.

  • Big Nuggets

    I’m glad he is showing he can play in the NHL but the stats are questionable. Not all shots are created equal so to say the other defensemen play better with him because of shot metrics sounds iffy. Also the bottom pairing match ups and small sample size are factors. I would send him down after his 9 games, stretch the games out if you want to, then call up Bear to replace him. Hopefully Bear will be as good or better. There is also a chance that Chia will trade for a defenseman at some point, which could push Bouchard off the roster so it may waste of his ELC if they keep him up. Bottom libe is this is still a team of the future so I don’t think this is the season to compromise the future.

  • Abagofpucks

    From where i sit Bouchard is going to make the team this year he’s got the smarts and learns fast. His skating and passing and ability to read plays going up ice are 2nd to none on this team, by mid season i wouldnt doubt he’s top 4 i say keep him here.

    • Blackbyrd82

      Poise, vision, passing, and shot might be the best on this D corps already, but to say his skating is second to none is insane. Nurse, Russel, and Klefbom are all much better skaters than Bouchard.

  • Total Points

    I would not worry for 1 second if Bouchard should be send down due to the draft. If he is better than others to make the team then he stays. Ice the best 23 players now!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Bouchard has played well, but he still has areas of his game that need work, much like Bear does but as with both you can see the possibilities to come from them, both can let it go from the point, both can carry the puck up the ice and both have some work to do in our end on their game. If you ask me, I think it is detrimental to have Bouchard up here if he is going to be sitting down the stretch. Unless the Oilers are going to waive someone or make a trade it means we have someone sitting, if the Oiler are in the hunt for a spot down the road and need points they are going to go with vets on the back end one would assume. But you can have everyone sit for long lengths of time, other wise you have no idea what your going to get when they do get into a game.

    Only way I see Bouchard staying up is a trade or if someone gets waived. If I was going to trade a D man Benning is at the front of my list but Benning is horrible 98% of the time so you would have to package him with someone unless you waive him and hope some GM that has never seen Benning play takes him or Benning sails thru the waiver wire and goes down to Bakersfield. Garrison could go to the waiver wire, but I think he gets plucked off,. cheap contract and he isnt bad, yes he had a horrible game but Benning had had many and he is still here….lol

    I’d rather have Bouchard get sent down and play and get lots of ice time and kick ass down their keep his confidence up and next year come into camp and see if he takes a spot.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Lets get Bouchard back to London, then hopefully he gets selected to the World Jr tournament. He will develop and gain confidence. Next year he will be ready for a full time role if all goes as planned.

  • bwar

    Wasn’t each team given an no cap hit penalty buyout last expansion draft? If so you can buy out Lucic and then can at least cut that exposed list down by another player.

  • IPeeOil

    Completely irrelevant if they don’t start winning some games. Sneaking a point or two here and there does not equal success. Our d sucks, plain and simply. Fight it, deny it…scream and yell I’m wrong, doesn’t change anything.

    • fasteddy

      I don’t believe it’s the personnel….it’s working as a unit. Watching Nash last night they almost always seem to have tight gaps between their forwards and D, and their puck support is off the charts compared to Edm. Way too often we are outnumbered around the puck in my opinion.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Lets be realistic, Nashville is a Stanley Cup contender with one of the top 3 D-units in the league. Exceptional goaltending and one of the lowest GA in the league. Edmonton played a decent game against them, its a process to be able to acheive the consistency and personnel to play with the best teams in the league. Right now Edmonton is trying to develop players and be competetive every night.

  • OnDaWagon

    If Bouchard can make Oscar Klefbom look useful, then he is a magician.
    That “value” contract of Klefbom don’t look like a value after all. EXPOSE him, and hope Seattle does remove the virus from the Oilers defense. OVERRATED. OVERPLAYED. OVERPAID. After this year, 4 more years of this awful d-man. Get rid of Mr. Blunder ASAP.

  • Daryl Katz

    If we were to lose Pool in then expansion draft,
    Then so be it. He looked nothing but lost since he’s been in the NHL in my opinion. Now if he were to be an accomplished player at the time then it would just plain suck to lose him.

  • Oil9744

    I do like how they had Klef and Bouch on the points of the power play last night but they need to switch sides for the one timer and need to stop passing SO much on the power play, If you had those 2 guys ripping shots from the point with Looch screening the goalie and scoring these rebounds the power play would be WAY better. I think they should set up the top unit PP like this for a couple games and see how it goes.
    Lucic
    Mcdavid Draisaital
    Bouchard Klefbomb

    • crabman

      the PP has been very good this year. sure they were shutout by yhe leagues best team last night but they are still running at over 27% for 8th in the league. And going into last night they were over 33% for 3rd in the league. I don’t start all over because of 1 poor game on the PP.

    • bwar

      The PP units need some adjusting. I’m not sure I want Lucic on either unit right now. I think there’s some value to having McDavid run a unit and Nuge run a unit.

      • Oil9744

        Lucic is a beast in front of the net, that’s gotta be the best spot for him. Think of him as a more aggressive Ryan Smyth in front of the net, that’s why he’s in that spot right now. No one can move him from in front and if they are trying to that will open up more lanes for shots on net, plus he has good hands for shot deflections and rebounds but the problem is the oilers are just not shooting the puck enough on the PP. Nuge can definelty QB that 2nd power play.

  • As good as he has looked I think he should be placed where he can continue to be offensively productive. Scoring is a habit and not one we want him to lose.

    If he goes back to OHL he will be ready to play on the Oilers 1st line next year. If he stays on the Oilers this season he will have to grind his way to the top and re-learn how to score again at some point.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 18% body fat

    If he goes back to just for than yamo should too.

    It means you aren’t keeping the best players and you are protecting from expansion. Why not go full out on it as well.

    Don’t have to protect either. Than protect

    Connor drai lucic Strome pulijarvi
    nuge khaira or rattie

    Larsson
    Klefbom
    Nurse

  • russ99a

    Things could be way different when Seattle joins the league. There’s a real doubt the arena will be ready for fall 2020, and there’s a really good chance there could be a lockout/walkout that summer.

  • lee

    The expansion draft will come at a moment in time when the Oiler’s will finally have depth. This at least will allow them to trade a player that they cant protect.
    Right now I’m guessing they wouldn’t protect JP. He is a big kid that plays soft. he also makes a lot of bad decisions. Soon he has to figure out what type of player he is. With a bit more grit he might try going to the net instead of releasing muffin shots from far away.

  • CMG30

    I think we all knew his offensive game was NHL quality already and it is. It’s the defensive side he needs to work on. I have no problems sending him back to continue to work on that aspect of his game.

  • KennyG

    Look at the Oilers first round picks from years past. JP has yet to add anything, Yam is a player that is finding his way. Bouchard year one is stepping into the toughest role of first year nhl players playing def and is getting better EVERY game. Screw sending him anywhere!! He will be the teams best def by the expansion. He’s the real deal.

    • Cageyvet

      Canucks fan here. The way the draft shook out, we gladly took Hughes, but Bouchard was getting a lot of consideration. Personally, if a kid’s ready, I’d make room and ditch a lesser light.

      In Vancouver we’re hyper-sensitive to losing or blocking the development of our youth. They’re not all ready, but if they are, make a move. Management here surprised many and did what fans wanted – waived Gagner, a 3 million x 3 yr free agent we signed last year. Who cares….we’re much happier playing the kids and finding out which ones you have to protect come expansion.

      There’s nothing worse than not finding out what you have in your own system well before crunch time. Play the crap out of them all, including Puljujarvi and Bear and see what you’ve got.

  • 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.

  • FutureGM

    Colossal mistake to keep him all year. Ethan Bear had points on the pp in preseason in which he looked good all around. Plus he has “toiled” a year in the AHL honing his game.
    Bouchard has looked good. Great even IF you consider his age. But to burn a year of control on a player and possibly losing a solid player in a guaranteed near expansion draft is silly. This would also send an awful message to players in the organization about earning a roster spot, something that has been an Oiler issue the past decade.
    The only thing that makes my points incorrect is if Bouchard has been leaps ahead of Bear. I say not even close. Better? Maaaybe, but not by much.
    Not a knock on Bouch, just the stupid Jr or NHL option the moronic league imposes. Plus a 19 yr old playing 82 games for the first time in his life. Yikes! Fatigue and playing against men for the first time for that long = greater chance of injury.
    Go become a leader at the world juniors Evan! Your showing makes me crazy excited that we have yourself Bear and Larsson fighting for ice time the next 5 years!

  • Bills Bills

    Someone forgot about the Sekera NMC. Would he waive it in his last year to go to an expansion team? Doubt it. Especially if the Oilers are close to contention.