As of writing this, Evan Bouchard is expected to dress in the Oilers opener today. I’m posting this two hours ahead of puck drop, but writing it on the Friday night prior because I’m too useless to wake up early on a Saturday morning to do it. So if it’s changed and you can read this…I’m still sleeping, but when I wake up I will be updating things right after I shower, go get my coffee, maybe feed the cat (I really wish we had a dog but we don’t yet), scroll through Twitter, think of things to take pics of and post on the new Instagram account, then realize the games started and settle into watching it, text my buddies right after the first missed call about what horse shit the officiating in the league is, but you better believe that in that 2nd intermission, maybe early in the 3rd if there is a lull in the action, I just might think about updating this should Bouchard end up a healthy scratch!
So I’ve been vocal the past few weeks talking about how Evan Bouchard making the team, not just for nine games but the season, doesn’t scare me at all. It scared a lot of people. I’m not sure after seeing him in camp that many Oilers fans are still scared, but nevertheless I’m sure there are some holdouts. Obviously the big thing for me wasn’t the camp he had, but it’s the skill set. He doesn’t have anything which you would consider “raw” or that needs big time developing still. He’s played three years of junior. He turns 19 in three weeks. He’s physically mature. He’s mentally VERY mature. His IQ is off the charts. His vision and passing is already at a very high level and will likely be elite soon. His shot is already high end and will likely be elite soon. His skating…which is his knock (stupidly), is real good. I’ve made this point a lot, his skating is fine it’s just that he plays methodical and doesn’t waste energy he doesn’t need to. So if he’s going to be a number six defenceman who sees some time on the top PP unit, absolutely keep him up!
Sometimes though, it isn’t enough to just say those things to people. Sometimes, people need reminders of guys who were similar. So I thought about some and now I’ll lay it out. Guys who were drafted in the top 10, are similar players to Bouchard, and entered the league at the same time in their careers.
Wade Redden 1996-97
This is one I can speak to best seeing that our families are good friends, I know Wade, followed every step of his career very closely, and as a fat little fuck of a 13 year old kid I was giddy as can be that I knew someone playing in the NHL so I didn’t miss a game of his. But I can say, he was great for them that season. He played top four, got a lot of PP time, didn’t look out of place, and that was on a Sens team that was pretty much average. They barely made the playoffs. But as I said above, I’m looking at guys who all were or are very similar to Bouchard. Bouchard is four months younger than Wade was when he broke in, similar abilities passing the puck, similar shots from the point, similar methodical/cerebral styles of play, similar maturity and IQ levels. Wade definitely had more edge in his game but that might be where the differences between the two end. And it’s not as though Wade was a crusher defensively. Nobody ever thought throughout his career that Wade got rushed into the league.
Aaron Ekblad 2014-15
WOAH! Hold up before you lose your shit. I am NOT suggesting that they are the same guy. But what I am suggesting is how similar Bouchard is in terms of maturity (both physically and mentally) and the fact that they both had three seasons in the OHL under their belts entering their rookie seasons. Ekblad fit in perfectly right from the get go.
Ivan Provorov 2016-17
Like Ekblad, this is not an identical comparison (unlike the next guy), but there are a lot of similarities. Stepped in at 19, three years junior under his belt (though only two in the CHL, other one in the USHL), cerebral, not really flashy, really mature, had no trouble. Pretty certain that nobody in Philly believes they rushed Provorov right now!
Zach Werenski 2016-17
This is the best example of today’s players. I’d say Werenski has a little more speed, and that’s it. Nearly the exact same size, nearly the exact same scouting report, Werenski was three months older than Bouchard (just about to the day) when he stepped in, and we all know how good Werenski was for the Blue Jackets two seasons ago and continues to be. He was on their top PP unit which for a while during that season was the best in the league (ended up 12th mind you), and as would be the case with Bouchard he didn’t need to run it, just play on it.
Feel free to call me out on guys who play and have a similar IQ and maturity at the same age as Bouchard does and I’ll be happy to listen. But I’ll also bark back because I’ve gone through the drafts from the last 25 years and didn’t see guys that busted or even were anything disappointing, who play similar, stepped in after three years of junior, and busted. Now, if you want the case for sending him back, and I’m not saying Bouchard is identical to this guy, but Alex Pietrangelo went back in 2010 as a 19 year old. Last time I checked, he’s pretty damn good.
Sending Bouchard back definitely isn’t going to hurt him, nor am I saying it would. But to me, you only send him back if you don’t believe you’ll use him. I think the better play for the organization is to keep him as their number six D-man, and send Bear back to Bakersfield to further work on his skating and knowledge that he’ll be the first guy called up and that it’s simply nothing to do with where he’s at but more to do with having more low cost talent available throughout the season.
I completely understand the fears that this fan base will have. You can’t trust management at all to do the right thing, we’ve seen all the kids who got rushed over the years (Smid, Gagner, Paajarvi, Puljujarvi, etc.), but this isn’t that.
From what I see of this kid, and mind you I’m just a “wannabe” scout, but I see a kid who is physically mature, mentally mature, and has an extremely high IQ. I don’t see anything that would be considered raw in his game. Those are the guys who need more seasoning in my opinion, not the guys who are smooth, poised, and mature. He has the strength to play. He might not be as intense of a defender as we’d like to see, but he won’t get pushed around either. He has the skating ability. With this one, people need to figure out that he’s a really good skater, he’s just not one of these undersized burners that so many fans and media fall in love with (again, he’s cerebral, he’ll skate the speed he needs to). To me, the things he needs work on would be his stick defensively, his positioning defensively, and something that people better be ready to accept is that he isn’t going to lay anyone out at any time. He has basically no edge in his game. But lots of D-men play with a similar lack of edge these days. It’s fine. You can still learn to defend. And the thing with a kid this intelligent and this mature is that he’ll be better playing with better talent, and he’ll figure it out quickly what he needs to do to thrive in this league.
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