Photo Credit: twitter.com/edmontonoilers

Why Evan Bouchard needs to be in the lineup every night

More often than not this season, Evan Bouchard has found himself in the press box instead of on the ice. And for the Edmonton Oilers, they’re doing more harm than good by not trusting the young defenceman.

In the 12 games he’s played this year, Bouchard has scored one goal and four points and while on the surface there’s nothing special about it, you have to dive a little deeper into his season to see his true value to the Oilers.

He’s played in 158 5×5 minutes this season with Slater Koekkoek and Kris Russell being his most common defensive partner. All the while, Bouchard has driven shot attempts with his CF%Rel at  7.70, the highest on the team by a longshot. His expected goals rate, meanwhile, sits at a modest 50.05 percent.

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These are fine stats for a rookie defenceman getting an inconsistent playing schedule. He’s not been out of the lineup for nine days having not played since March 1 against the Leafs where he had a less than stellar performance.

But it’s time for the Oilers to explore how to keep him in the lineup on a nightly basis for one reason: his ability to produce offence from the backend.

At 5×5, Bouchard has scored 1.52 points per hour all the while taking 12.55 shots per hour. On top of that, he’s been involved in 80 percent of the Oilers goals scored while on the ice. Among NHL defenceman with >150 minutes played at 5×5, those rank 7th, 1st, and 2nd, respectively.

In fact, when you account for all NHL players, not just defenceman, his shots per hour rate sits fifth among all players sitting behind David Pastrnak, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Brady Tkachuk.

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So what has been Bouchard’s achilles heel this year, and why, even with his impressive offensive production in a small sample size is he struggling to crack the lineup? For one, it has to do with the fact he’s a young defenceman. I believe there’s still a sentiment of Bouchard not “earning it” enough over over players. While I disagree with this, it’s something that I see impacting his lack of playing time.

On top of that, there’s one other statistic that points towards a significant trend we’re seeing this year: PDO. The stat adds a players on ice shooting percentage and on ice save percentage together with a mean number of 100 being the norm over a large sample size.

Anything higher, and the player or team is considered lucky. Anything below, the opposite.

For Bouchard, he has the third lowest PDO among all Oilers at 98.1. Below him are Caleb Jones and Slater Koekkoek, while above him rest Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson at 98.9 and 99.2, while Tyson Barrie (100.2), Kris Russell (101.4), Darnell Nurse (101.7) and William Lagesson (117.4 (!)) are all above him.

Ironically enough, all the defenceman ahead of Bouchard in PDO are also ahead of him in the depth chart, too, even as someone like William Lagesson, who has as much NHL experience as Bouchard, draws into the lineup.

When you look at the other top defencemen drafted early in the 2018 draft, they’re all seeing regular NHL minutes. Rasmus Dahlin, Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Noah Dobson, Ty Smith and K’Andre Miller are all being trusted with expanded roles and are being allowed to make mistakes.

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So why not Bouchard? The Oilers have a very, very good prospect in him who is showing in little action that he can be a very productive defenceman.

He’s ready to be an every night player in this league.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]