Rookie defenseman Evan Bouchard had two assists, 10 shot attempts, and seven shots on net while mostly playing the left-hand side of the blue line for the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. While the team didn’t win the game, and Bouchard was on the ice for one of the critical goals against, there was a lot to like about his game and a lot to like about how he looked on the left side.
In fact, head coach Dave Tippett seemed to like what he saw enough to have the coaching staff spend a little more time with the blueliner during practice taking pucks off the wall this week. The expectation is that Bouchard will move over to the left side permanently and that will start as early as the Oilers next matchup against the Winnipeg Jets.
There seem to be two reasons the Oilers are making the shift. First, Ethan Bear’s imminent return to the lineup will shove Bouchard over to the opposite side. Bear, who has been out seven straight games with an injury, skated on the right side of the third pairing at practice on Sunday.
Second, the Oilers want to unleash Bouchard’s howitzer of a shot.
On a couple of occasions Monday, Bouchard decided to unleash the beast. During a series where the Oilers were down 4-1 and Edmonton started to badly out-shoot the Jets on the way to a near comeback, (eventually losing the game 6-5) Bouchard’s insistence on shooting was a critical factor in that comeback. The Oilers liked what they saw. How can you not?
“I’ve played the left before,” Bouchard said. He noted that playing it last night for a while, the guys were working with him and trying to help him out as much as possible. When asked about his history on the left side, Bouchard said he did some in junior with London. He noted it’s different because of the need to pivot the other way, but it’s easy to work on.
This Season’s Ethan Bear?
Thus far, Bouchard has shown himself to be this year’s Bear. Last season, Bear showed up and wowed the Oilers to the point they couldn’t take him out of the lineup. This season, with so many options on the blue and good, young players itching for ice time, Bouchard is making a case to stay right where he is — even if it means shifting over to the other side.
Bouchard was asked about his confidence level and said, “The more you play, the more comfortable you get.” He didn’t mind waiting for his turn and noted it’s part of the process in professional hockey and he just had to be ready for the opportunity and make it tough for them to pull you out.
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