Some of you call him Old Man. I prefer Dad. No matter what handle you choose, there’s no question Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Evan Bouchard can pass for a young man who is 25, maybe even 30, when that 5 o’clock shadow kicks in at 2 p.m. When Dad is standing next to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 35 isn’t a reach.
Looking at him, it’s easy to forget Bouchard, selected with the 10th overall pick from the London Knights by the Oilers in 2018, is just 21. He looked mature beyond his years again in Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a game in which he picked up two assists, had eight shots on goal and logged 20:23 of ice time in just the 13th NHL game of his career and sixth of this season.
Like the pool of blueline prospects the Oilers have at long last assembled and are knocking on coach Dave Tippett’s door looking for a spot in the line-up — William Lagesson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and, not too far down the road, Philip Broberg — Bouchard is making a good case that sooner or later youth will be served.
Bear, injured now, leads the pack with 98 games on his resume. Lagesson, injured Monday against the Jets, has played 16 games with the Oilers. Jones, trying to get back in the line up, has played 67 games. We might never see all of them together when you factor the likes of Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson and maybe Tyson Barrie into the mix, but that’s a nice problem for GM Ken Holland and Tippett to have. Show us more, Dad. They’ll figure it out.
WHAT HE SAID
“The more you play, the more comfortable you’ll be,” Bouchard told reporters today after logging a career high for ice time against the Jets. “It’s the same with everyone, I think. The more you have the puck, the more you’re feeling the puck, the more confident you get throughout the game. As the games go on you get more confident.”
Asked about having time to develop rather than being thrown into the deep end right away as too many Oiler prospects have been, Bouchard said: “It’s part of the process, this whole thing. It’s a long process, but it’s something you can’t get down on yourself. You have to be ready for it, so when you do have the opportunity, you make it tough for them to pull you out.”
Like Lagesson, Jones and Bear, Bouchard isn’t close to being a finished product right now, but he plays with a composure and patience that gives him a chance. There’s not a lot of panic in his game, even if there are still mistakes from time to time. He’s got a knack for getting pucks through to the net, as he did on Monday, he has a bomb for a shot, and he moves well.
“We’ve finally got him in where he’s playing every game and he’s playing, not thinking about what he’s doing,” Tippett said. “He’s a highly talented, instinctual player. When he’s just playing, not thinking too much, his skills take over.
“That being said, like last night he’s got eight shots on goal but there’s some stuff he’s still got to continue to improve in the defending part of it, the positional part of it. Tying up men in front of the net, there’s some things like that he’ll continue to improve at. He’s a young player that, as he continues to gain confidence, it looks like he’s becoming a better and better player every game.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
With Lagesson injured against the Jets, Bouchard played on the left side with Larsson and didn’t look out of place — he played some left side in London, so it’s not new to him. That kind of versatility gives coaches options. The ability to move around will serve him well, especially with all the young competition looking for playing time right now.
I’m not sure how Bouchard will stack up against the rest of the young defencemen the Oilers have now two or three years down the road, or how many of them will actually still be here, but Bear is the only member of the group I have ahead of him right now and Lagesson is a different player — defence first. Thirteen games, after all, is just a glimpse. Show us more, Dad.