Oilers thrilled after ‘complete package’ Bouchard falls in their lap

Watch as the Edmonton Oilers draft Evan Bouchard from the London Knights with the 10th overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft.

Blessed at the draft, if not once the puck drops, even in the rare season when the Edmonton Oilers don’t draft first overall the lottery balls still seem to fall for them.

The Montreal Canadiens fulfilled predictions when they picked Jesperi Kotkaniemi at No. 3, and then the New York Rangers went off the board when they chose Russian Vitali Kravtsov ninth. That left Edmonton at No. 10, looking at defencemen Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson — plus the high scoring winger Oliver Wahlstrom — three players who most experts had going inside the Top 8 in this draft.

A run of forwards had left several of the best defencemen available. It is ironic, considering general manager Peter Chiarelli had spent the week trying to move that same 10th pick for an established, offensive-minded NHL D-man.

Edmonton selected Bouchard, as complete a package as you’ll ever see.

“We felt … there might be a couple of guys pushed down, and Evan (Bouchard) was one of those guys,” Chiarelli told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman immediately after making the pick. “We scouted Evan a lot, and he fits a need that we have. He has some real good leadership qualities, has a real good shot — he just pile drives the puck at the net — and he sees the ice real well.

“It’s hard to acquire those guys in trades. We figured we’d draft one.”

Bouchard’s 26-66-92 in 71 games (including playoffs) are the most points of a draft-year defenceman in over a decade. He comes from the London Knights, captaining an esteemed program that has stocked the NHL with talent. He is that rare offensive defenceman with size, a beefy six-foot-two and 198 pounds.

And he shoots right, the new age cherry on the sundae that denotes today’s franchise defenceman.

“Evan plays in key defensive situations as our first defender over the boards for our penalty kill and he runs the powerplay from the top,” Knights GM Rob Simpson told NHL.com. “He’s a complete defenceman. Really the cornerstone of our defence corps.”

That the Oilers would patiently draft rather than trade the pick in a shortcut to success is a great sign for a team that is slowly turning around its development side under Chiarelli and assistant GM Keith Gretzky. After years of derelict drafting and development that sewered this franchise, there are signs of life in the prospect pool that coincide with Chiarelli’s arrival three seasons ago.

Sure, Chiarelli would have dealt the pick had a deal been there. But he is well aware that good organizations hold on to their high draft picks, and only then can you benefit from an Evan Bouchard falling into your lap at No. 10.

Bouchard played almost 30 minutes per game for London, becoming the first D-man ever to lead the Knights in scoring, which he did by an astounding 33 points. He was the highest scoring defenceman in the Canadian Hockey League and his size should get him to The Show more quickly than many of the smaller defencemen in Friday’s first round.

Edmonton’s current blue-line lacks that pure powerplay quarterback, so the clock will now begin ticking on Bouchard’s development. Defenceman very rarely step into the NHL right away, but it is fair to ask what more the CHL has to offer a player who dominated juniors the way Bouchard did this past season?

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

He is said to be a good skater, not a great one. Working a powerplay or following the rush led by Connor McDavid should be plenty of incentive for this Oakville product to improve.

Is Evan Bouchard the dynamic D-man the Oilers have been searching for year after year?

Well, it will be fun to find out, won’t it?

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