Evan Bouchard was chosen during the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (10th overall). Last season he played with the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate the Bakersfield Condors and had a successful season scoring seven goals and 29 assists for 31 points in 54 games. However, because the 20-year-old is still developing and needs to play more, to get him that extra playing time the Oilers loaned him to Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan in early September.
So Far, Bouchard’s Doing Well in Sweden
So far, Bouchard has done well in Sweden. He’s scored two goals and two assists in eight games with Sodertalje SK already this season. When he returns, he’ll be given every chance to crack the Oilers lineup when the 2020-21 training camp begins. Bouchard has the offensive talent and will be groomed to quarterback the Oilers power play when he gains more experience at the NHL level.
Last season that job was Oscar Klefbom’s; but now, with Klefbom undergoing shoulder surgery, the Oilers picked up Tyson Barrie on a one-year contract as a free agent to take over that role on the team. But, sooner or later – hopefully sooner –the Oilers plan is to employ Bouchard in that role. His time in Sweden should help him do that.
Bouchard’s Development Going Well, But There Remain Things to Work On
Bouchard has played well at every level he’s moved up to. When he made the jump to the AHL during the 2019-20 season, he excelled there just as he had in juniors. His scoring and playmaking with the Condors suggest that he simply needs more experience; and, with that experience, he’ll have a real shot at making the Oilers’ regular-season roster and even earning a regular spot in the team’s lineup.
It works that way when you have both the defensive and the offensive skill – the all-round game – one needs to play at the NHL level.
In fact, those offensive skills and his well-rounded game suggest that Bouchard has a long NHL career ahead of him. However, that doesn’t mean that Bouchard is perfect. He still needs work, but that work doesn’t need to necessarily focus on his “skills.”
Paul Coffey’s Assessment of Bouchard’s Game
In an Edmonton Journal article written in early April of this year, none other than Hall of Famer Paul Coffey weighed in on Bouchard’s development. Coffey likes Bouchard’s game – except for one aspect. He hopes that the young defenseman learns to play with more “urgency.” (from “Paul Coffey loves Evan Bouchard’s offensive ability but still needs work on overall game,” Jim Matheson, Edmonton Journal, 08/04/20).
Coffey was more specific: “I think Bouch’s only flaw, and that’s a very strong word, is you have to play every shift like it’s your last, and that’s easy to fix.”
Coffey “blames” that on Bouchard’s success at every level and the amount of corresponding playing time that has always gone with it. In other words, because he was always one of the best players on the team, he played lots of shifts. And, when you play lots, Coffey suggests, you develop a pace that serves a double purpose. First, it helps you get the job done; and, at the same time, it helps you conserve your energy for the next shift, which – when you play almost every other shift – comes very soon.
The Problem of Being Too Good Too Young: Learning to Go Full Out
Coffey noted that Bouchard “was a product of a lot of ice-time in junior with the Knights and you develop the speed you play at. I can remember in 2002 when Wayne (Gretzky) and Kevin were with the Olympic team and they had Chris Pronger, great player, Hall of Famer, the whole bit, but it was the same thing with him. He was so used to playing every other shift but when you have six great (Olympic) defensemen you won’t play every other shift.”
In other words, because you are playing in the NHL with other strong defensemen, Coffey believes that Bouchard has to go full-out every shift. Then, as he needs to, he can rest between shifts. But, as Coffey says, that’s a mental adjustment – a mindset tweak – and is easy to fix.
However, Coffey’s overall assessment is exceedingly positive. His final thought about Bouchard is summed up in his statement: “With Bouch, with some of the things they say about defensemen that they can’t skate, they can’t pass, they can’t shoot well, Bouch can do all of that.”
However, ever cautious, Coffey notes that he’s “sure the coaches down there (Bakersfield) have told him he needs a little more desperation in his game.”
Enjoy Sweden; Who Knows When You’ll Play in North America
Good luck to Bouchard in Sweden. We hope he enjoys his playing time there because it’s not at all clear when you might have a chance in the Oiler’s training camp. It’s that kind of a year.
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