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Oilers’ Bouchard outshining Hughes in head-to-head matchup

Evan Bouchard scores Game 3 winner
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
Evan Bouchard is emerging as a bonafide superstar defenceman in the 2024 playoffs. He had an excellent regular season and will get some votes for the Norris trophy, but he’s elevated his play even higher in these playoffs.
Through four games of this series, Bouchard has made a significantly bigger impact than Norris-trophy favourite Quinn Hughes. Hughes and Bouchard have different skill sets. Hughes is an electrifying skater and one of the most mobile defencemen on the planet. He’s an outstanding passer who defends well by using his head and feet to make up for his smaller stature.
I’d argue Bouchard is the best shooting defenceman in the league. It isn’t just the velocity of his slap shot, it is the accuracy of his shot. He can accurately fire one-timers top-shelf or have pinpoint accuracy with a wrist shot from just inside the blue line, like he did last night on his second game-winning goal of the series. Where Bouchard has really improved is in the defensive zone. He won’t intimidate you physically with a huge hit — instead, he defends well with his stick, uses his length (6’3″), and most importantly, his accurate passing allows him to break out cleanly and defend less. But when he has to defend, Bouchard has improved his angles, stick positioning and body positioning.
In this series, Bouchard has been a difference maker at both ends of the ice.
He has logged a ridiculous 27:51/game against Vancouver. Hughes has played 24:48.
Bouchard has produced 3-3-6, with all three goals and one assist coming at 5×5. Hughes has four assists, but none at 5×5 and three have come on the power play.
Bouchard has played 84:45 at 5×5. With him on the ice the Oilers have outshot Vancouver 48-15 and outscored them 5-1. Hughes has logged 77:24 of ice time and Vancouver has outshot Edmonton 30-28 and outscored them 1-0. Both of them have defended well at 5×5.
But Bouchard’s play in the offensive zone has been the difference. Prior to the series, when I went on Vancouver radio, I was asked about the matchup and I said I don’t think there is as large a gap between Hughes and Bouchard as people think. The Vancouver audience didn’t agree. They argued Bouchard’s offensive numbers were inflated by being on the power play with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. There is some truth to that, as those two are the main cogs on the man advantage. However, to just downplay Bouchard’s impact on the PP would be inaccurate. His shot isn’t made more accurate or harder because of Draisaitl and McDavid. It is his own personal skill set and we are seeing that, and more, on full display in this series.
And, ironically, it hasn’t been on the power play. Bouchard has two PP assists in 15:24, while Hughes has three assists in 14:44. Bouchard has crushed Hughes offensively at 5×5.
Hughes has no points and four shots on goal in 77:24 of ice time.
Bouchard has two goals, one assist and 14 shots in his 84:45 of ice time. He scored the overtime winner in game two and scored the game winner with 39 seconds remaining last night.

BIG MOMENT BOUCHARD…

May 14, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Evan Bouchard (2) celebrates after scoring a goal during the third period against the Vancouver Canucks in game four of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place.
Not every game-winning goal is equal. If you score the second goal in a 6-1 victory you are credited with the game winner, but I don’t view that game winner the same as an overtime winner. Both go in the GWG column, but they aren’t exactly the same.
Bouchard has three game-winning goals so far in these playoffs. And all three have been huge goals.
He scored the only goal in the Oilers’ game four 1-0 victory over LA.
He tallied the OT winner in game two v. Vancouver.
Last night, he buried the game winner with 39 seconds remaining.
Three massively important goals for the Oilers.
Bouchard comes across as one of the most laid-back players you’ll ever see, but don’t confuse that for lacking in passion or desire. He is very good at controlling his emotions, at least outwardly, and when the games matter more he has the unique ability to elevate his play. This is only his third full NHL season, and his third time in the NHL playoffs. He’s performed well each year, but most impressively he has been able to get better each playoff year.
He’s always been comfortable offensively, and his defensive game has really improved this postseason — but so too has his offence. He had nine points in 16 games as a playoff rookie in 2022. Last year he scored four goals and 17 points in 12 playoff games, and this year he already has four goals and 15 points in nine games. He leads all defencemen in playoff scoring with 15 points and is three ahead of second-place Cale Makar.
His improvement and ability to show up at key times is not lost on his teammates.
“No moment is too big for him,” said Mattias Ekholm. “He’s playing his game. He doesn’t care what time of the game it is, what time of year it is, he’s playing his way, and that’s what I love about him. And that’s what’s going to make him have an unbelievable career in this league.”
“”He’s been amazing for us, obviously, all year, but especially in big moments,” said Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl knows a thing or two about showing up in big moments. He has 10 points through four games of this series, and now he has a ridiculous 97 points in 58 playoff games. His 1.67 points/game is second highest in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky’s 1.84.
Bouchard’s ability to step up and deliver — not only key goals, but huge minutes in both ends of the ice — has been impressive.
As usual, Bouchard was very calm and nonchalant talking about his role in the game-winning goal.
“Obviously, it wasn’t ideal giving up that second one in the third period, but there wasn’t much time to sulk and think about it,” said Bouchard.  “We had to go out and still finish the period and play aggressive. There were great plays all around on the goal. Kaner (Evander Kane) putting it in, Hallsy (Dylan Holloway) chipping it in, Leon making a great pass, like he usually does. We did a great job getting to the net, we were preaching on that all game. getting to the net, getting the dirty goals. Kudos to our forwards for battling in front, it’s a tough job getting in front of the goalie. I saw a lane and took it.”
The subtleties of Bouchard’s ability to move laterally with the puck, to open up the lane just a bit, and then perfectly place a shot should not be overlooked. He makes it look easy, but it isn’t. It is a skill set very few defenders have, and at 24 years young, you wonder how dominant he is going to become in the future. He is emerging as a true elite offensive defenceman. Very few defenders possess the accuracy or velocity that he has, nor his instincts on how he reads the play and finds the open ice or the open man.
Four games don’t make him a better defender than Hughes, but Bouchard is showing he deserves to be in the conversation among the elite defencemen in the game. He’s taking his offensive game to new heights, while also making huge strides defensively.
Bouchard will never have the lateral mobility of Hughes, but Hughes doesn’t have Bouchard’s size and reach, nor does he possess the same variety of shots.
They are both very good players, but through four games, Bouchard’s star has shone brighter. If that continues the Oilers’ chances of winning this series increase.

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