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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • camdog

    If one of the top 4 gets hurt, Bouchard likely plays top 4 minutes. The Oilers braintrust, isn’t thinking about 2-3 years from now, they are thinking about end of November. No point in throwing in the towel on this season worrying over an expansion draft.

  • Kevwan

    I like the idea of slow playing Bouchard the same way the Blues did with Pietrangelo. At this point play him every 3rd or 4th game but he stays and practices with the team under the tutelage of Yawney. After his 9 games are up in December let him go to the World Juniors. In the new year he can go to London for the playoff push and playoffs.

    There is an old saying amongst rich guys – “money sooner is better”. Seattle will be playing in 2020. For once the Oilers need to take a long term approach

  • Just a Fan

    The question is not “Is Evan Bouchard effective” . The question is “Is the gap between Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear enough to burn a year of ELC”. From what I have seen the answer is No.

  • nbandito

    He’s had some issues wandering and it has been a factor in some goals against that I’ve seen, but there have been others with more experience guilty of the same. His passing is impressive at this level and his ability to find the net is what we need on the back end. I could see them sending him back if we go on a losing streak, but if we’re playing .500 hockey by the nine game mark I don’t see how Chia can afford to send him down given the pressure to win. It would be nice if they brought Bear up to see how he plays with Benning out.