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.
35 year old Evan Bouchard is ripping up the AHL in his Condors debut.
— Oilersnation (@Oilersnationalt) April 24, 2019
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.