NHL Notebook: Edmonton Oilers’ Evan Bouchard early Norris Trophy candidate as LA Kings call up top prospect Brandt Clarke

Photo credit:© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
5 months ago
Evan Bouchard’s electric season, one featuring some early lows and recent highs, is seeing him start to work his way into the Norris Trophy conversation.
In early December, it was The Athletic who had him eighth in net rating among all defencemen, a rating they use to evaluate top talents. And since that happened, he’s continued to produce in a big way.
His nine goals and 36 points have him ranked second, and fourth among all NHL defencemen, respectively, while his underlying numbers are some of the best among all rearguards. Among 114  defencemen who have played over 500 minutes this season, here are his underlying numbers, and how they rank:
Evan Bouchard, 5v5. First 35 games of 2023-24 season, among 114 defencemen with 500+ TOI.
Simply put, Bouchard has been dominant on the ice this season, and has been plagued by poor goaltending. His on-ice save percentage of .876 is the second lowest mark, and something that will improve. In short, you can expect his 53.85 GF% to climb closer to the 64.36 xGF% mark he carries this season.
This production from Bouchard has got people talking, and on Wednesday’s edition of Daily Faceoff Live, Tyler Yaremchuk and former NHL defenceman Michael Del Zotto spoke about the Norris Trophy race:
Tyler Yaremchuk: I want to pick your brain on the defensive game in the NHL and maybe get some early season Norris Trophy talk in. When you look at the point leaders in the NHL, they’ve got some defensemen up in there with Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes and Evan Bouchard is at a point per game in Edmonton. If you had to pick an early-season Norris winner who would it be?
Michael Del Zotto: So I think with Bouchard he definitely benefits from playing with two of the best offensively gifted players in the game. For me, it’s Hughes or Makar. To me, Makar is number one in the way he impacts the game on both sides and has a physicality edge to him. You can’t argue with Hughes though and what he has done, he’s so much fun to watch. The evolution of defenseman has changed so much now you’ve got guys scoring 80-90 points and plenty put up 60 points a season.
Michael Del Zotto: That stay-at-home defenseman doesn’t really exist anymore, now you have these offensive players with a longer leash and if they don’t workout with the other 8/10 that do work and turn into grade-A scoring chances and a bit of a track meet back and forth and that’s just sort of where the evolution of the game has gone. A little bit different even from when I started in the NHL 15 years ago, so the ability these guys have with their skating and stick as opposed to the physical presence is very different. I love it in the way of a fan but there’s still this old school mentality and sometimes you watch games and it just feels like watching pond hockey. Long answer but Cale Makar is still the best defenseman in the league but if it went to Hughes I wouldn’t be shocked.


Kings recall Clarke

The LA Kings have recalled top prospect Brandt Clarke from the AHL, the club announced Wednesday.
The recall comes as the club placed Tobias Bjornfot, indicating their desire to give Clarke a look in the NHL. The 20-year-old was drafted by the Kings eighth overall in the 2021 draft, and wrapped up his Major Junior career last season with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, with whom he scored 23 goals and 61 points.
Turning pro with the AHL’s Ontario Reign this season, all Clarke has done is continue to produce points, scoring seven goals and 32 points, leading all defenceman by four points. The production is even more impressive considering he ranks fourth in league scoring among all players.
Here’s some of what Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis had to say about Clarke:
Clarke was one of the top prospects outside of the NHL, leading all AHL defensemen in scoring with 32 points in 30 games as a rookie with the Ontario Reign. Just 20, Clarke is tied with Rocco Grimaldi for third in AHL scoring among all players and six behind the Texas Stars duo of Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque with 38 each. Olen Zellweger is the next closest U-21 defenseman in scoring with 21 points in 28 games for the San Diego Gulls.
What’s most impressive about Clarke’s season is his point-per-game average of 1.07. According to Elite Prospects, the only defenseman with at least 30 games played and a higher PPG among U-21 defensemen in league history is Gaston Gingras, who has a 1.27 PPG in 1979-80 with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs.
A key piece of Canada’s World Junior Championship victory at the 2023 world juniors, Clarke started 2022-23 with the Kings, registering two assists in nine games. He was ultimately loaned down to Ontario before finishing the year by putting up 61 points in just 31 games with the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

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@thenationnetwork.com.

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