There are a number of adjectives coming out of the first day of Edmonton Oilers’ training camp on Thursday, especially when it comes to defenseman Evan Bouchard. As per Ryan Rishaug, Tippett says a huge key to the blue line this year and called him an “X factor”.
Bouchard is saying all the right things when he notes he wants to come in and make the team, play well and earn more ice time. The reality is, he’s already made the roster. The Oilers moved a number of pieces from their blue line this offseason, in part, because they wanted to free up space to make sure Bouchard gets in the lineup on a regular basis. Now, it’s about helping move up the depth chart and contributes regularly, which the Oilers think he can do.
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The young defenseman is off to a good start coming out of Day 1. Notes from Thursday’s on-ice session are that he looked ready, his passes were crisp and he had no trouble keeping up, despite not playing much at all last season. Tony Brar reports: “Tippett says Evan Bouchard and Slater Koekkoek wanted to battle against the Hyman-McDavid-Puljujarvi line all practice this morning. They asked for it. Wanted to play against the best.”
Tippett’s assessment of what he saw: “He carries himself like an NHL player now. We need him to take a step forward for us & I have full confidence he’s going to do that.”
Associate coach Jim Playfair said of what they hope to see from Bouchard this season:
The deal with Bouch is he’s just got to play. He’s got to get into lots and lots of situations. He’s got to dig into his game. He’s got to push his game. He’s got to play his game. You know what? We have to work with his game as he plays lots.
Bouchard knows last season’s situation was a tough one for him. He doesn’t want to go through another year where he doesn’t play. The Oilers recognize that too. Playfair said, “He got through a hard situation last year. The way things were set up last year was a unique year. I thought he did an excellent job of managing himself and the situation.”
The coaching staff believes in this player. They know he’s got the offensive skills and the ability to shoot the puck, the vision to make great passes and the hockey sense to get involved in the play, but it’s the well-rounded nature of his game as he grows into a regular NHL’er that the Oilers really want to work on. Playfair said, “He’s got a great identity as being a really great offensive player. But I think he’s got the foundation to be a fundamentally really good, solid defender. He’s going to watch Duncan Keith do it that way. He’s going to watch Cody Ceci do it that way. It’s going to be a great time to watch and learn and play and make his own mistakes and follow his own way.”
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