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Could the Edmonton Oilers powerplay get better with Evan Bouchard running the point?

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Photo credit:Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
11 months ago
If the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings true, then why did the Edmonton Oilers mess with a historic powerplay by trading away Tyson Barrie?
There are lots of ways to look at it and some around Oil Country are scratching their heads over the Mattias Ekholm trade. Is it worth it? Should the Oilers have messed with their chemistry? Why did they get rid of their powerplay quarterback?
All valid questions.
The truth of the matter is you have to give to get in the NHL, and the Oilers opted to sacrifice Barrie to make it happen. He’s been a great solider for the team over the last three years helping add to what was an already potent offensive attack for the Oilers. As I wrote yesterday, there are lots of reasons why the trade makes sense for the Oilers.
But one of the biggest questions the Oilers are faced with as they prepare to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday is what happens to the powerplay?
First and foremost, what is the role of the quarterback on the Oilers’ powerplay? The last few years, Barrie’s goal has been to keep the puck in at the blueline, and shift the penalty kill box by cycling the puck. He’s a threat to shoot, but has just seven goals from the point over the last two seasons. He struggles to get the puck on the net.
The logical move here is to slide Evan Bouchard into the role of powerplay quarterback. He’s shown an ability to be a strong puck-mover for the Oilers and in his sophomore season, is going through a bit of a slump. His offensive production has taken a step back from last year, but the Oilers’ ability to suppress shot attempts, scoring chances and expected goals.
The other option, as Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft mentioned Wednesday morning, is to put Darnell Nurse on the powerplay. I’m not a fan of this given the current makeup of that unit, but it’s an option, for sure. He’s quarterbacked the powerplay briefly during the 2018-19 season when the OIlers had the ninth best unit in the league. I’m less of a fan of this.
Nurse’s biggest knock on the powerplay is that he’s another left-shot defenceman even though he does get lots of shots on net from the backend. He has the range that can help keep pucks in at the blueline, and that’s always an asset. I still circle back to Bouchard for a few reasons. Over the last two seasons at 5×5, Bouchard’s 7.3 shots per hour are the highest among all Oilers defencemen. Nurse is second with 6.81 and Barrie sat at 5.67. On the powerplay, Bouchard’s 11.16 shots per hour are significantly higher than Barrie’s 9.68.
This changes the look of the Oilers powerplay significantly. Bouchard has a knack for getting shots on net, and when it comes to the powerplay, it has resulted in signifcantly more shot attempts, scoring chances and expected goals. Here’s some underlying numbers looking at the Oilers powerplay over the last two years with Bouchard and with Barrie:
Oilers PP 21-22 — 22-23 up to March 1TOICF/60SF/60GF/60xGF/60SCF/60HDCF/60HDGF/60OiSH%
McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman + Barrie244:13116.2173.4615.7211.0773.4636.367.3721.4
McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman + Bouchard44:58156.0674.6913.3413.1597.3740.016.6717.86
There are a few interesting things to take note of out of this, small sample size notwithstanding. What’s noticeable is the Oilers’ ability to generate significantly more looks and chances with Bouchard on the backend than Barrie. As I noted above, Bouchard’s strength lies in his ability to get shots on the net, and I think that’s causing the difference here. More shots on the net, or attempts towards the net, gets the puck to higher danger areas on the ice allowing the Oilers’ big guns to get scoring chances.
Edmonton’s scored at a higher rate with Barrie running the point, but there’s a four percent difference in shooting percentage with 2.38 more goals for per hour. I think this is largely a sample size issue.
The Oilers have a chance to further develop the offensive side of Bouchard’s game, and getting a bunch of time on the powerplay could be a huge boon. His confidence appears to be lacking at times this season, and generating offence is always a good way to get going. When it comes to Nurse, I think the last thing the team needs to do right now is to ask more of him. He’s struggled mightily this season and the addition of Ekholm should help take some of the pressure off him.

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 zach@oilersnation.com.

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