When Evan Bouchard has the puck on his stick, he’s a talented defenseman who can offer the Edmonton Oilers a ton of offense a lot of good things. The problem is, when he’s trying to play defense so far this season, there are few players worse on the Oilers’ roster, if not in the league. This is not the kind of player Bouchard is, and he’s often unfairly criticized as an all-or-nothing player, but there’s also a line the team must draw to send a message to a player that needs to be better and figure it out.
In the Oilers’ loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, Bouchard had three points, but was on the ice for five goals against. He was directly responsible for two of those goals against and, while he wasn’t the only problem in a game where the Oilers had a number of problems, he might have been the biggest.
It’s a crazy stat, but on the season, he’s now played six games and is 2-6-8, for a plus/minus-8. He’s on pace for 109 points but also a plus/minus -109.
His defensive struggles were evident as he ended the game with a minus-3 rating, directly contributing to the disastrously bad third period. Edmonton lost the lead and allowed five goals against in the final frame, raising concerns about their ability to protect their lead effectively. Bouchard’s performance, tallying three points despite being the weakest link on the ice, is almost comical. The level of accountability needs to be leveled up. Woodcroft needs to start dropping the hammer on a few players, Bouchard likely the first.
He excels on the power play, so using him there is probably still wise. That said, there’s a clear need to restrict his 5v5 ice time to mitigate his shortcomings during regular play. Even if some see that as rewarding a player with gravy minutes, it first needs to be about winning. Second comes teaching a valuable lesson. Hopefully, both can happen at the same time.
It’s time for head coach Jay Woodcroft to send that message.
Bouchard Will Figure It Out Quickly
This is too good a player not to be recognizing the bad situations he’s putting himself into regularly. His misreads are killing the team and giving opposing teams momentum when the Oilers are ready to finally put the game away. He’s pinching at the wrong time, he’s not recognizing people are behind him, and he’s not being strong enough on the puck or in lifting sticks to stop the action.
At the same time, this is a player who was incredible down the stretch for Edmonton last season. After Mattias Ekholm was acquired, Bouchard was night-and-day different in his game play than what he’s shown through six games this season. He’s in a defensive rut. It shouldn’t last and a quick wakeup call might be all it takes.
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