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In a full season on Edmonton’s top power-play unit, how much could Evan Bouchard produce in 2023-24?

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
NHL_Sid
8 months ago
Signing Evan Bouchard to a new contract is the final major thing left to do for the Edmonton Oilers this off-season.
Bouchard’s role on Edmonton’s roster significantly changed following the Mattias Ekholm trade. Tyson Barrie has quarterbacked the team’s power-play ever since 2021, but once he was dealt in a package for Ekholm, it created a huge opportunity for Bouchard. Ever since the trade, Bouchard played in a top-four role with Ekholm, and took Barrie’s spot at the point on the league’s best power-play.
So far, it’s safe to say he’s thrived. In the 2023 playoffs, Bouchard produced 17 points in 12 games, just one point behind Leon Draisaitl. Despite the fact Edmonton was eliminated in the second round, Bouchard led all NHL defencemen in playoff scoring. It raises an interesting question: how much could he produce in a full season in this role?
Now, I’m not an avid fan of using production to evaluate defencemen, as it can often be heavily dependent on various external factors, namely the quality of the forwards you play with. Personally, I tend to use on-ice scoring chance play-driving impact and various microstats (such as shot assists and zone exits) to evaluate offensive ability for defencemen (where Bouchard still ranks extremely well). However, in today’s NHL, contracts are still heavily dependent on box score stats, most notably point production. In Bouchard’s case, his production rates will heavily impact what sort of contract he receives, meaning this is an important and interesting topic to discuss.
So, how much could Bouchard produce in an 82-game season on the best power-play unit in the league, with two of the NHL’s best offensive players? What sort of impact does it have on his future contracts?
*All stats via Natural Stat Trick and EvolvingHockey unless stated otherwise

Bouchard’s career production rates thus far

Throughout his hockey career, Evan Bouchard has been nothing but extremely productive.
In his draft year with the London Knights of the OHL, Bouchard produced 87 points in 67 games, tied with forward Jason Robertson for eighth in the league in scoring, and first among defencemen by a strong margin. 
In 2018-19, he began the first seven games of the season with Edmonton in the NHL, but was later sent back to the OHL for the remainder of the year. He finished with 53 points in 45 games, second among all OHL defencemen in points per game. In 2019-20, he would play 54 games with the Bakersfield Condors, a team one point out of last place in their division. Still, Bouchard posted 36 points, good enough for 10th in the league among defencemen.
Bouchard’s development was partially stalled in the shortened 2020-21 season, as former coach Dave Tippett would play him just 14 games in the NHL that season. Although he was ineligible for the Calder, I consider the following 2021-22 season to be his true rookie campaign. That year, he produced 31 points at 5v5, 11th among all NHL defencemen. 
Since 2007, only four other defencemen at or under 22 have produced over 31 5v5 points in a season, which includes Erik Karlsson, Thomas Chabot, and Victor Hedman. It’s more impressive when you consider that Bouchard had the second-lowest on-ice shooting percentage among Edmonton’s defencemen that year, meaning he was actually somewhat unlucky and could’ve produced even more.
His underlying offensive numbers were even better. Bouchard’s impact on driving even-strength on-ice scoring chances (RAPM xGF) ranked 4th among all defencemen. All-in-all, he was exceptional offensively at EV.
Bouchard’s production and overall goal differential saw a dip in the first half of 2022-23, and many fans chalked it up to a sophomore slump. However, it was simply a product of extremely poor luck. At the time in November, I wrote a piece about his awful puck luck, as his on-ice SH% ranked fifth last in the league, and his PDO (a sum of on-ice SH% and on-ice SV%, a proxy used for puck luck) ranked third last. I stated he would eventually regress, and predictably, he did.
As mentioned earlier, Bouchard capitalized on the opportunity he obtained as a result of the Ekholm trade, producing 19 points (11 EV, 8 PP) in the final 21 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he had 17 points in 12 games, combining for 36 points in the 33 total games since the Ekholm trade.
Moving to the other end of the puck luck spectrum, Bouchard’s playoff production is unlikely to sustain. While Edmonton’s PP will likely continue to be the best in the league, their playoff PP% of 46 percent is extremely hard to repeat. 
Furthermore, Edmonton’s top PP unit scored 17 PP goals, and Bouchard had 15 PP points, meaning Bouchard had a point on 88 percent of the power-play goals that he was on-ice for. The league-average IPP% (individual points percentage, i.e. the percent of on-ice goals that a player obtains a point on) for defencemen on the power-play usually ranges from 45 to 65 percent, so it’s almost certain that Bouchard doesn’t repeat this level of production (especially considering that McDavid and Draisaitl are the primary drivers of the PP, so they will always have the highest IPP%).
However, it should be quite clear that Bouchard is an excellent offensive talent at both 5v5 and on the PP. His potential in terms of production is quite high, especially on the NHL’s best power-play unit.

So, how much could he produce in a full 2023-24 season?

First, let’s estimate how many PP points Bouchard could produce.
Although Barrie was a regular player on the league’s best power-play, he didn’t actually make a significant impact. In the past three seasons, PP1 has generated 13.1 goals per hour with Barrie at the point, while they actually improved to a rate of 13.7 without him. In the 131 minutes that PP1 operated with Bouchard at the point this season, they generated an outstanding 16.9 goals per hour (in the playoffs, they were at 22.2!). While I expect slight regression in a full-season sample, it’s pretty safe to say that Bouchard can effectively handle that spot, and I’m quite confident he can perform even better.
In the past three seasons, ten different defencemen have produced at a rate of over 7 PP points per hour in a single season, and four of them produced over 8 PP points per hour. While quarterbacking Edmonton’s PP1, Barrie has averaged 6.8 PP points per hour in the past three seasons, with his production peaking in 2020-21 at a rate of 7.2. Multiple defencemen managed to produce at elite rates on the power-play without players of McDavid and Draisaitl’s caliber, so considering that Bouchard will play with them, I think it’s reasonable to suggest he could average at least ~7 PP points per hour.
Bouchard averaged 3:44 PP TOI per GP since the Ekholm trade, which would equate to about 306 total PP TOI in a full 82 GP season. If he plays (at least) 300 TOI on the PP, and (at least) produces at a rate of 7 PP points per hour, that equates to about ~35 PP points. 
As for 5v5 production, recall that Bouchard hit 31 5v5 points in his first full NHL season, despite facing subpar puck luck and spending considerable time with the bottom-six. Playing an entire season in the top-four (likely the top-pair) with lengthy time alongside McDavid and Draisaitl, it’s quite plausible Bouchard can produce ~35+ 5v5 points. 
Overall, that’s roughly a total estimate of 70 points
Barring unforeseen circumstances such as injury, I think Bouchard definitely possesses the capability to break the 60-point mark. Note that RNH managed to produce over 100 points playing on this power-play, while Hyman was over a point-per-game, so I think 70 points can be realistic. I wouldn’t entirely rule out 80 points either, as it’s certainly not out of the question for Bouchard to produce over 7 PP points per hour and/or over 35 5v5 points. Adding a few empty-net and 3v3 points to his total would also slightly push him toward that mark.

What does this mean for future contracts?

Jan 9, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard (2) shoots during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
If Edmonton runs a 21-man roster (12 forwards including Lavoie, 7 defencemen, and 2 goalies), they have roughly $4.18M left in cap-space. Expect Bouchard to sign for roughly $4M on a 1 or 2 year deal.
There are several obvious risks to a bridge deal. We’ve seen this with Darnell Nurse, who signed two different bridge deals, which eventually led to a massive 8-year contract extension at an AAV of $9.25M. 
Note that Nurse’s career-high in points was 41 at the time of the signing; Bouchard already had 43 points in his rookie season. While Nurse did produce at a PPG pace of 0.64 in the shortened season of 2020-21, roughly equating to 52 points over 82 games, the possibility of Bouchard beating that mark in a full season on Edmonton’s power-play is exceedingly high. Especially considering the rising cap ceiling, Bouchard could eventually be extremely expensive.
Unfortunately, Edmonton is in a quite difficult situation. With Nurse and Campbell making $14M combined, they don’t have enough cap space to sign Bouchard to a long-term deal, and it may not make sense for Bouchard’s camp to sign long-term either.
If Edmonton signs Bouchard for one year, they would need to re-sign him again next off-season. With a potential 60-70+ point season under his belt, alongside a rising cap ceiling, they would be forced to give Bouchard a significant raise next summer. This limits Edmonton’s cup window, as they could be forced to downgrade the roster to clear cap and fit him in (also note the Brown bonus would kick in)
I believe a two or three year contract would be the best-case scenario. Edmonton should attempt to ensure his contract lasts until Draisaitl or McDavid’s contracts expire, which is the ideal cup window. Since Bouchard would be on a 2-3 year deal in this scenario, his cap-hit would also be relatively lower, meaning Edmonton has more cap to improve the team in this window. 
While Bouchard’s ask would be even higher after multiple seasons on the PP and a rising salary cap, a massive raise nearly seems inevitable either way; it’s simply a matter of when. I would rather prefer if Edmonton chose the option that could maximize their cup chances as much as possible in the remaining years of McDavid and Draisaitl’s contracts.
Sky’s the limit for Evan Bouchard and his offensive potential. This season is a huge opportunity for him to shine.
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