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Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: The slow burn…

It was a long 64 days for Evan Bouchard, the longest of his career, between hockey games in a season.

But last night the young defenceman drew into the Oilers lineup and looked like he had played in every single game this season. He scored Edmonton’s third goal of the night, a sneaky wrister, that helped extend the team’s lead in what would be a 4-1 win.

“I’ve been working really hard off the ice to stay in shape, so to get back in the lineup was a good feeling,” said Bouchard after last night’s win. “Everyone wants to play, but you have to take advantage of what’s given to you and that’s a lot of practice time for me. (It gave me) a lot of time to work on what I wanted to work on, specifically my skating, so i think it was good to take advantage of that.

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“Part of getting shots through to the net, it doesn’t always have to be that slapshot. When you can throw wristers on net with screens in front, it can help a lot. I just kind of want to get the puck through.”

While Leon Draisaitl led the way with two goals and Connor McDavid with two assists, Bouchard quietly played the third most minutes last night. He saw a total of 20 minutes and 13 seconds of ice time, and not just at 5×5. Bouchard played 1:41 on the powerplay and an additional 2:25 on the penalty kill, something that’s been new to him.

“It was a great opportunity for me to get through the systems and everything like that and I can add that part to my game,” said Bouchard, adding “to get a chance to play on the penalty kill was important for me.”

And it hasn’t been lost on his head coach, either, who said he felt “Bouchard was excellent tonight.”

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“He played well for a guy who hasn’t played in a while,” said the ever-candid Dave Tippett.

“We’ll just take it game by game here and see how things go. We used a regular recall for him, so he’s available to us for the rest of the games. We’ll see where it goes with rest and injures and stuff like that.”

Tippett elected to remove Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear from the lineup, in favour of the rested Bouchard and William Lagesson. At this point in the season it’s clear the Oilers coaching staff is willing to try out as many things as possible.

All four lines controlled over 50 percent of the shot attempts, and all but the Draisaitl, McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi controlled over 50 percent of the expected goals. It’s a good sign as the team builds towards the playoffs.

But back to Bouchard: the Oilers will be able to hold Bouchard on the active roster for the remainder of the season, suggesting there’s a good chance he gets a few games the rest of the way. Scoring in your first game back in the lineup is, in and of itself, something that will help that, too.

Whether he’s in the lineup for playoffs or not, it’s a good chance for the Oilers to get a look at what they have in him ahead of what will undoubtedly be a key offseason in shaping the Oilers defensive future.

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May 3, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) and forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrate PuljujarviÕs goal against the Vancouver Canucks (13)in the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Backhanders…

  • The McCentury watch shrinks. He now needs only seven points in five games. Things are looking good in that sense.
  • McDavid and Draisaitl both collected two points last night for the third consecutive night. It’s also marked the 18th time this year the pair had multiple points in the same game. The next closest in that regards are the combos of Colorado Avalance forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen and Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner at 11 games, respectfully.

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]