Prospect Of Interest: The 411 on Oilers pick Evan Bouchard

London-Knights-defenceman-Evan-Bouchard.-(Aaron-Bell/OHL-Images)

London Knights defenceman Evan Bouchard. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

By nearly any offensive statistical measure, London Knights’ defenceman Evan Bouchard is an elite prospect whose points should make him a no-brainer pick for an NHL team looking for back-end scoring near the top of the draft. And every NHL team is looking for back-end scoring.

Playing close to 30 minutes a night while driving the attack for his junior team, Bouchard amassed 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games for London. The 6-foot-2 Oakville, Ont., native became the first defenceman to lead the famous Knights in scoring – and did so by 33 points. A power-play maestro, Bouchard’s points included 45 at even strength.

Bouchard not only was the highest-scoring defenceman in the Canadian Hockey League, he is the first draft-eligible blueliner to top 80 points since Ryan Ellis, who is only 5-foot-10, was an 11th overall pick of the Nashville Predators in 2009.

Last year’s fourth overall pick, Cale Makar, another under-sized defenceman, had 75 points in 54 games, but that was in the Alberta Junior League in his draft season.

Remember, the NHL’s highest-scoring defenceman this season was Washington Capital John Carlson, who had 68 points in 82 games. We know OHL-to-NHL is apples to oranges. But this isn’t: Carlson had 76 points in 59 games with the Knights the season after his 2008 draft.

Bouchard’s 1.3 points-per-game this season is almost identical to Carlson’s 1.29.

“They’re both offensive D and (Bouchard) is right there,” Knights coach Dale Hunter told The London Free Press. “He’s big and strong. He can skate and shoot and he’s got a good head. The numbers may be there, too. He’ll be right around there.”

All this offence, and there still isn’t a hope that Bouchard goes any higher than fifth in Dallas. And there is lively debate whether defencemen Quinn Hughes of Michigan and Noah Dobson of Acadie-Bathurst, as well as United States under-18 forward Oliver Wahlstrom, will also get to the draft stage ahead of Bouchard once the consensus top-four of Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk are called.

Bouchard is regarded as a good skater, but not a great one. And like a lot of offensive teenagers, he needs to become more dependable in the defensive zone.

But the biggest problem with Bouchard seems to be that he has become so good so quickly, and was forced/allowed to do so much for the Knights, that his NHL offensive ceiling may not be as high as it appears to be.

Team: London Knights
Age: 18
Shoots: Right
From: Oakville, Ont.
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 192 pounds
Position: Defence

WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT BOUCHARD

“Evan plays in key defensive situations as our first defender over the boards for our penalty kill and he runs the power play from the top,” Knights’ general manager Rob Simpson told NHL.com. “He’s a complete defenceman who plays in all situations, plays a lot of minutes each night and is really the cornerstone of our defence corps.”

NHL Central Scouting: “A highly-intelligent defenceman with exceptional vision and offensive instincts. He reads the play very well and his passing ability allows him to be a constant threat in his team’s transition game. He’s one of the top offensive defencemen in the Canadian Hockey League and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play.”

Sportsnet analyst Sam Cosentino: “He thinks the game well, shoots the puck a ton, and is as strong as an ox, which will allow him to log big minutes down the road.”

WHAT BOUCHARD SAYS ABOUT HIMSELF

“To have success as an NHL defenceman today, you have to do the little things right. It’s a game of inches, so getting the pass to the stick of a guy who’s open is important. It’s about moving the puck and making sure you’re good in the defensive zone.”

O CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN

When the perennially powerful Knights decided to reload this season by trading four key veterans ahead of the OHL deadline, London named Bouchard its captain. He bloomed under pressure, continuing his season-long rise in draft rankings to finish as the No. 4 skater on Central Scouting’s North American list. Last fall, after a 44-point season in 2016-17, he was projected to be a late first-round pick.

Canucksarmy.com averaged numerous draft rankings and listed Bouchard as the eighth-ranked prospect and the biggest climber (five spots) in the second half of the season.

During his three years in the OHL, Bouchard learned from teammates like Toronto Maple Leaf Mitch Marner, Calgary Flame Matthew Tkachuk and Montreal Canadien Victor Mete.

“I think it’s just watching and seeing how the pros really do stuff and how hard they worked, even last year,” Bouchard said. “(Mete) puts in the work; they all put in the work, and that’s something you have to do. Taking care of your body is also a very big thing.”

CANUCK CONNECTION

The Vancouver Canucks hold the seventh pick and are expected to select a defenceman. Two years ago, with the fifth pick, the Canucks selected Knights blueliner Olli Juolevi, who is expected to compete for an NHL spot in September after spending this season in Finland. Bouchard and Juolevi could be reunited on Vancouver’s defence.

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