Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Should Evan Bouchard play in the NHL in 2019-20?

The Oilers have been rightfully criticized for rushing prospects over the past decade. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were first-overall picks and ready for the NHL. Nail Yakupov was another first-overall pick, but he could have used more time either in junior or the KHL. But first overall picks almost always play right away. The last number-one overall pick to not make the NHL after being drafted was Erik Johnson in 2006. Marc-Andre Fleury also went back to junior after being selected first overall in 2003. That’s two players in 16 years (Jack Hughes will make the New Jersey Devils). While we can probably excuse Yakupov’s entrance to the NHL, the Oilers rushed Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto. Going back even further, you can include Sam Gagner, Anton Lander, and Magnus Paajarvi.

Ken Holland is now the Oilers general manager and he brings the Detroit model of ‘over-ripening’ prospects. Can he buck the trend of rushing prospects and keep Bouchard off the NHL roster for another season after being drafted in 2018?

It’s long been said defencemen take longer to develop than forwards. That’s true to some extent, but there are (usually) only six defencemen dressed on any given night compared to (usually) twelve forwards. It’s easier to hide a young forward than it is a young defenceman.

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The Holland Oilers want to get things right. Prospects will only make the team if they earn it. Is Bouchard ready?

Comparing Bouchard to other highly drafted (1-15) defenceman from the Canadian Hockey League paints a clearer picture.

Defencemen who make the NHL right after being drafted are usually the elite of the elite (Drew Doughty, Seth Jones, Aaron Ekblad, Cam Fowler) or physical defencemen with the size for the NHL (Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Dmitri Kulikov).

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Only seven players made it right after being drafted. Year two sees that number climb to 16. Erik Gudbranson, Tyler Myers, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Ivan Provorov, and Mikhail Sergachev arrived in the NHL in their second year after being drafted.

Bouchard doesn’t need to make the NHL next season to be an elite defenceman. Far more concern arises if Bouchard isn’t an NHL regular by his third post-draft season, when most high-drafted CHL defencemen arrive.

Year three after being drafted is where the big jump occurs. Sixty percent of the defencemen drafted 1-15 from the CHL are in the NHL by their third-year post draft.

Seventy percent are regular NHLers by year four, with just six players spending most of their season in the AHL (Dylan McIlrath, Colten Teubert, Duncan Siemens, Griffin Reinhart, Derek Pouliot, Samuel Morin).

Evan Bouchard is going to be in the NHL by that time, but will he make it next season in just the second year after being drafted by the Oilers? Bouchard scored a bunch of points with the London Knights. You can’t judge a defenceman solely on points, but Bouchard’s production was so good, and he followed that up scoring eight points in eight games with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL playoffs. He clearly played a bunch of minutes and handled the puck a ton in junior — does that signal he’s more ready for the NHL than lesser scoring defencemen in the CHL?

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Players in yellow made the NHL in their second season after being drafted. Players in green have not played their second season post draft.

A monster year after being drafted doesn’t guarantee a defenceman will be in the NHL the following season.

Bouchard nears the top of the list in points per game, near very good defencemen like Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Ellis, Josh Morrisey, but also lesser defencemen like Ryan Murphy, Derek Pouliot, and Brandon Gormley.

Evan Bouchard's 2019-20 AHL Highlights

Hamilton had a huge draft-plus-one season and was a top-four defenceman for a good Boston team in 2012-13. Ryan Ellis destroyed the Ontario Hockey League but went back for another season. Josh Morrisey had a huge jump in production, but still returned to junior twice and then played a season in the AHL before making the NHL.

Provorov maintained his production and made the Flyers in 2016-17, just one year removed from the draft. Cal Foote had an almost identical points per game as Bouchard in their draft-plus-one season and he spent all of the following season in the AHL.

Bouchard is an elite offensive defenceman in the OHL. Making the NHL two years after being drafted wouldn’t be a surprise. Eight points in eight games with Bakersfield in the AHL playoffs doesn’t hurt his case either.

It’s either NHL or AHL for Bouchard. With Holland’s preaching of patience and over-ripening, Bouchard might start 2019-20 in the AHL. Still, Bouchard has an easy path to an NHL job. The Edmonton Oilers have on right defence: Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Matt Benning, Joel Persson. That’s a group of defenceman Bouchard can pass with ease by opening night, especially if new head coach Dave Tippett likes Russell more on the left side.

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It’s not a big deal if Bouchard spends some or all of next season in the AHL, but the hole on the Oilers’ right defence and Bouchard’s skillset make me believe he’ll make the team fairly easily, or else spends a short amount of time in the AHL. Bouchard’s third season after being drafted is more important in terms of being an NHL player. My bet? Bouchard lines up beside Darnell Nurse against Vancouver to start the season.

  • A-Mc

    Id like to see him spend some time with the Oilers this season. Say 20+ games? They’ll know if he’s going to sink or swim as he approaches the 9 game mark. Preferably he works on those 9 games further into the season and not at the start, when the competition is still sorting itself out; i’d like him to be sent right to the AHL to start the season (unless he’s a total stud through preseason)

  • Spoils

    the safe bet is that our team is a bubble team next year. We are better saving a year of ELA eligibility with Bouchard – unless it will hamper his development.

    In the cap era we need studs on ELAs and one extra year of ELA for Bouchard is a big advantage.

    imagine Broberg and Bouchard contributing quality minutes on ELAs! that frees us up to add big additional offensive pieces… that’s a recipe to WIN a Stanley.


  • SmyttysMulletsRevenge

    “over ripe” is bad asset management, you play the player when he is ready.

    Bouchard has a very good chance to make the team. It will take a mind blowing camp showing. I watched all 8 AHL games, his only weaknesses i saw( granted im just a couch scout) gap control and foot speed to a degree. He was a cut above everyone moving the puck and being ice cold calm under pressure.

    With a little more foot speed and some gap control off season work he should be a lock IMO. i could see Benning becoming #7

    • OriginalPouzar

      I watched those games as well and don’t disagree with your assessment but we do need to note that he played extremely sheltered minutes in those AHL games. In fact, until the Bear injury, he only took a couple even strength shifts per game and there is a chance he didn’t take a single defensive zone faceoff at all through all his games. They were dressing 7 d-men and spotting him in for most of it.

      He did everything he could in the minutes he played but they were extremely sheltered.

    • wiseguy

      You can afford to let a player who is ready “overripen” if you have stronger players ahead of him. Nashville had a deep deep D when Ellis was ready. Oilers aren’t deep anywhere so you play the players according to your depth chart. If the player is 1-4 in your forward position list or 1-3 in your D list, he makes the team. Not playing your best players is cheating your fans and makes the players upsets the player who will feel that a player that he beat in camp got the position just because the team is trying to extend control by a year.

  • OriginalPouzar

    As I replied above, while Bouch knocked it out of the park in the AHL playoffs, the minutes he played were about as sheltered as one can play (only a couple even strength shifts per game, zero defensive zone starts, etc.)

    The next step for Bouch is to be in a legit top 4 role with the Condors and play 20 plus minutes per game for a few months. If he knocks it out of the park again, well, then he could be in the conversation for call up come the turn of the calendar.

    • OriginalPouzar

      I have little doubt that Even is going to look marvelous at camp – he’ll make calm plays with the puck and a few great stretch passes. He’ll put up a few points on the PP by getting his shot through.

      At the same time, we know that exhibition success doesn’t really mean much as far as NHL readiness – we see it every year – with Puljujuarvi, Rattie, Yamamoto, etc. – great and productive preseasons but clearly not NHL ready. We even saw it with Bouchard himself last season.

      • Abagofpucks

        Bouchard should play a handful of games in preseason then i would send him down to bakersfield. The way i see it he has to look good on the farm before he gets to play any meaningful games at length in the nhl.

    • wiseguy

      Because Bouchard is in the AHL, it he’s good enough out of camp you play him in the NHL. When he struggles, you can send him down with specific things he needs to work on that he is lacking to be successful in the NHL. When he has addressed those issues, you bring him up for another stretch. When you identify something else that he needs to work on you send him down again. Rinse and repeat. Leaving him in the AHL from the beginning if he beat the players that made it makes a player feel he’s getting shafted and doesn’t identify his shortcomings.

  • I can’t help but feel it’s either going to be Caleb Jones or Evan Bouchard making the team out of camp, not both. But I could also see whoever DOESN’T make it being a mid-season call-up. It’s actually refreshing to even be having this sort of conversation, and I am looking forward to this preseason more than any in memory.

  • Redbird62

    Draisaitl was kept on the Oilers his first year until the Oilers fired Eakins, traded for Derek Roy and called up Anton Lander (who Eakins didn’t seem to like) because the Oilers were woefully short-handed at center. Beside Hopkins, the Oilers other two center were Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon, neither of whom were ever going to provide any offense. The only other choice was Will Acton. They also waited because the Oilers did not seem to want Draisaitl going back to Prince Albert and were holding out till his rights got traded to Kelowna. And while Draisaitl certainly had his struggles that half season, in no way did it hurt his development.

    The Oilers seemed to push higher draft picks (not including the first overalls, who almost all will start in the NHL), more due to the lack of better alternatives (like being forced to play Nurse too much back in 2015-16) which is a management failing. And I still struggle with the concept the Gagner was rushed. He scored 49 points as a rookie and finished 7th in Calder voting. He followed that up with a very decent second season and was a consistent 50 points per 82 game player while with the Oilers. Gagner was good enough to play in the NHL right from day 1, but he did not improve greatly over the next 7 seasons. Having 5 head coaches in 7 years may have affected that though he had a good run with Krueger as coach.

    • ed from edmonton

      This all day the myth that the Oil hava negatively impacted player development by playing them in the NHL is pile of horse apples. Does anyone seriously think that Gagner would somehow be faster ir bigger today if ha had spent a year or two more in the CHL? How about Nurse or LD if they had a full year in the AHL? The Oil have played young players in the NHL quickly because they were the best players available to them and if I’m paying hundreds of dollars to see them play they better be putting the best players available on the ice. But would you rather have a young Darnell Nurse going through his share or growing pains or an AHLer like Theo Peckham on the blue line?

  • Kneedroptalbot

    It all depends on Evan Bouchard’s transitional skating? If he has shown improvement switching from Backwards to fwd and has improved his quickness to retreive pucks from his own end, he will be NHL ready.
    If he plays like he did in the Junior showcase tournament where Jr players were blowing by him in the neutral zone, he’s not ready.

    • The Rookie

      On paper, I think I would be ok with Klefbom-Larsson
      Russel-Benning as top 6. It’s not horrible. We’ve definitely had worse in these parts. I think the back end looks even better in another two years if they can keep the up and comers.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Bouchard has a lot of good qualities to his game, but he needs to fine tune some things with his game playing against better competition, he needs to go and play in the AHL. If the Oilers need him for a game here or there to fill in fine, but he should not start the season here, there is no reason to rush him, if Bouchard blows the doors off the AHL then the Oilers can bring him up and look at things, otherwise let him play a ton of minutes in the AHL and fix the weak points in his game

  • boil-in-the-oil

    He should start the season in the AHL . . . the team can then measure his performance and his improvements before awarding the promotion to the bigs.

  • Bond 0097

    If he is sent down for half a year or until injuries become an issue that’s ok.It won’t hurt him and there are other players to consider, we need to get a read on Benning as he is nearing the mark where defencemen either get it or they don’t and we can’t give up on him. Plus if we can save one year of ELC eligibility that is also huge going forward.

  • Canoe Ride 27

    So many guys that I’m interested in seeing at camp. Bouchard is at or near the top of the list. I have more confidence in Holland and Tip making assessments than I’ve had in a GM/HC tandem in a while.

    • Redbird62

      I would agree if he is clearly one of the 6 best dmen, but if he is number 7, I think he and the Oilers would be better served if he was in the AHL rather than spending significant time in the press box. While Tippett will want the best players available to put on the ice on any given night to maximize his chances of winning, Holland will balance this with the longer term needs of the team in terms of who is on the 23 man roster. Besides if Bouchard is already ranked 7 by the end of camp, he likely wouldn’t be in the AHL long. It will be interesting if Tippett and Holland will be on the same page with respect to this, because it sure seemed like Chiarelli and McClelland often had differing views.

  • Fireball

    I believe you quoted Holland. If he earns it, it’s his. Ready is ready. If he comes to camp and steals a spot than he should be in the lineup. If he doesn’t, It won’t hurt for him to play a year in the AHL. He didn’t look out of place in a sheltered role last year in the NHL. He looked like he was gaining more confidence every game. He was a stud in junior and in the AHL playoffs. Id guess he’s going to make everyone take a long hard look before he gets sent down.. if he gets sent down.

  • CMG30

    I expect that he’ll get a cup of coffee in the NHL. I would hope that he goes to the AHL soon after. If he comes in and really blows the doors off the barn then would be the time to reconsider. Still, it’s a different beast to have 10 good games VS steady play over an 82 game season…

      • Redbird62

        Perhaps people read it as criticism (ie. he needs to be performing better sooner since he is older) or it’s the misuse of the word technically, since by the rules the draft year is September 16 to September 15 he has “technically” completed his draft year +1 like everyone else drafted in 2018. But based on your “its a good thing” comment, what I assume you meant is Bouchard is as much as 10 months older than some other of his draft year peers so probably physically, mentally and emotionally more mature than many of them. The added bonus to his birthday timing, based on the mismatch between draft eligible birth dates and CHL requirements, Bouchard is able to play in the AHL in his draft +2 year, which is a major benefit compared to players with Jan 1 to Sep 15 birth dates. As you can see from the list above, most of the high pick draft choices were not eligible to play in the AHL in their draft +2 year. Not only does Bouchard have the opportunity to get better development in the AHL, the Oilers have the flexibility to bring him up too if warranted, whereas once a player goes go back to the CHL, he is there for the rest of the season. The Oilers had this advantage with both Draisaitl and Yamamoto who also got to play in the AHL in their draft +2 season. Noah Hobson, on the list above, if he does not make the Islanders I believe will have to go back to the CHL.

  • BR

    two to Three years from now looks great:
    Nurse – Bouchard
    Klefbom – Larsson
    Samorukov – Jones/Bear

    Prefer to see Persson get a solid look in the NHL before Bouchard gets more NHL time.

    Klefbom – Larsson
    Nurse – Benning
    Russel – Persson/Jones
    Bear/Lagesson as first callups with Bouchard later in season for cup of coffee.

  • Redbird62

    Assuming the incumbents all get through camp healthy, hopefully Persson, Jones and/or Lagesson play well enough that Bouchard gets sent down (I have little expectation that Manning will crack the top 7 but you never know). I would like to believe that for Bouchard not to start in the AHL, he would have to outperform these other guys in camp / pre-season by a wide margin including demonstrating a significant improvement on the defensive side of the game. Barring another D’s injury or him just being so dominant at both ends of the ice in the Bake and the Oilers needing help on the back end, he should spend at least half a season on the farm.

  • billsbills

    Schultz lit up the AHL as an older player than Bouchard. JS outscored Taylor Hall in the AHL. Did that mean he was ready to be in the NHL? Not on a team lacking the defensive depth to properly shelter him. Is this year any different?

    Bouchard can spend a full season there. He’s young. Besid s if he plays two full seasons in the NHL, I’m pretty sure he has to be protected in the expansion draft. You don’t do that unless you absolutely need to.

    • Redbird62

      Schultz did pretty well in the NHL his first year too with 27 points in 48 games resulting in him finishing 7th in Calder voting. So he was NHL ready, just not top 4 ready. Ideally the Oilers would have had played him on the power play (where he netted 15 of his points-7th among NHL defenseman) but only on a 5/6 pair at 5 on 5 until he developed. Sadly, they had him playing top 4 minutes right from the get go, again largely due to a lack of good alternatives, he jumped to top 2 minutes after Petry left and he never got much better in that role in Edmonton.

      If Bouchard does play at the NHL level this up coming season, I doubt he will be called upon to play top 4 minutes at evens barring substantial injuries. While they have a ways to go on defense, the Oilers are currently way ahead of the 2010-2015 era in terms of defenseman depth.

      • billsbills

        The Oilers have 3 top four defencemen and arguably no top pairing defencemen. They have two bottom pairing defenders. And a bunch of unproven players.

        That doesn’t lend itself to being able to mentor and protect a young inexperienced defenceman. I would rather see him playing 20+ minutes a night in all situations in the AHL rather than 7 minutes of sheltered NHL time. Even if he is the best option. That’s short sighted when it comes to development and asset management. It’s simple, a bottom pairing rookie defender is not going to be the difference maker over the course of a season. Even if he gets 10-15 PPP. Which would only be because he is a right shot that he would get those minutes over Nurse.

  • Pouzar99

    Bouchard should start in Bakersfield where he can hone his defensive game and establish that he deserves a promotion. Defenceman are often injured and if a spot opens up and Bouchard merits it he should be brought up for a look-see.