With the Edmonton Oilers opening rookie camp today, we’re still a long way from knowing what the 2019-20 edition of the Oilers is going to look like when the season opens Oct. 2 with so much up in the air, except maybe in goal.
That most certainly holds true for prospect Evan Bouchard, taken 10th overall in the 2018 Entry Draft, on the blueline as he gets set for his second training camp. While I doubt Bouchard, who is still only 19, is ready to win an NHL roster spot this season, I’d expect he’ll push for one. Could he surprise everyone and show he’s ready to stick? Sure. Will he? I don’t know.
What I do know is Bouchard has another year under his belt and a couple of factors that will push him further along the development curve. First, experience. Bouchard has 45 more junior games with London of the OHL, a seven-game NHL look-see with the Oilers and eight playoff games with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL on his resume. He had none of that a year ago.
Second, for the first time in a long time, the Oilers actually have real prospects on the blueline. Aside from Bouchard, there’s Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, William Lagesson and Dmitri Samorukov in the development pipeline with Philip Broberg on the way. Having that competition means having options and choices, rather than just seeing another kid thrown into the fray before he’s ready. It makes everybody looking for a job better.
WHAT HE SAID
Bouchard’s cup of coffee here to start last season and his playoff time in Bakersfield provide players like him with a valuable glimpse into what they need to work on to take the next step and not just get to the NHL, but stay there. Every little bit helps.
“There’s always stuff to work on,” Bouchard said. “Whether you played seven games the whole season, there’s always stuff that you can improve on. I took a lot back with me, back to London, and tried to work on the little things to get me to the next level. No player really wants to get sent back. Like I said, I took it all in when I was here, learned a lot when I was here and I think that’s really going to help me grow.
“It’s definitely a lot different. Knowing the players here, getting a taste of pro hockey definitely helped me a lot. It makes me a lot more confident.”
About the number of prospects in the pipeline . . .
“It’s always friendly competition, but you’re fighting for a job, you know,” he said of the kids who have legit shots to earn a spot on the back end, or at least push hard for one. “Samorukov had a great year in Guelph. I saw Broberg at development camp. He’s a great player, so it just makes you want to up your game that much more. With the prospects Edmonton has on the back end, it’s really going to make you do that.”
Of course, there was the obligatory question this morning about whether Bouchard feels he’s ready to make the jump and earn a place on the roster. I have yet to hear a kid say, “No, I don’t belong here. Please, send me back now.”
“It’s hard to tell. There’s a lot of good prospects up here,” said Bouchard. “Obviously, I’m going to try to make the roster this year. I think that’s the goal of everyone here. It’s going to be a good competition.”
Unlike so many other camps in recent years, that’s actually true.