Oilers notebook: Bouchard comfortable, confident after Sweden stint

Evan Bouchard spoke about his confidence level coming into Edmonton Oilers training camp as he tries to make the team.

EDMONTON — A year ago it was Ethan Bear who didn’t look quite the same, didn’t talk quite the same way. Who caught our attention for different things than before.

Bear went on to become the fifth-round pick who led all NHL rookies in ice time last season, while Evan Bouchard — a first-rounder from 2018 — went south to begin his pro career in Bakersfield, as the fateful 2019-20 season began.

This training camp it’s Bouchard who is turning heads, somehow turning 23 games in Sodertalje — Sweden’s second division — into a career leap that just may help him to begin his NHL career this January.

“A lot more confidence now,” is what Bouchard sees as the difference. “Going to Sweden, you get an extra perspective on the way you play the game. That helped me (get) a lot more confidence. I think that’s a big part of the game.”

The knock on Bouchard was that he played the game from the proverbial rocking chair. Slow and methodical. He lacked urgency and some quickness.

Today, the right shot defenceman has shown up in Edmonton leaner, quicker, and looking very much like an NHL player. At least, that’s how he looks from the stands.

“I know that for a fact (that he is), with some of the testing we did,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s come in in great shape, and he’s played most of the year (in Sweden) and he’s played very well in the time we’ve had him here.”

Bouchard played under Sodertalje head coach and long-time NHLer Mikael Samuelsson. The former Canuck rubbed off on Bouchard, in a positive way.

“I learned a lot from him, about work ethic and everything,” Bouchard said. “He doesn’t like to lose, and that really stuck with me. Playing for someone like that really helped me … to get that mindset, to believe in me.”

You would think that a defenceman who needs to work on his urgency would not be well-served by apprenticing on the big ice in Europe, where the game comes at him more slowly. But in another sign of maturity, Bouchard think he found ways to overcome that.

“The NHL has more battling, but there are things that you can work on … and if you can do them on the bigger ice it will make it that much easier on the smaller ice,” he said.

Remember, we’re talking about a 21-year-old player here. Young players have to mature in so many ways before they are ready for the heat lamp that the NHL can be, a process that Tippett has witnessed hundreds of times.

“You can tell he’s a confident player,” Tippett said, “but more than anything, he is maturing as a person and as a player. As that maturity process comes to fruition, he gets more comfortable and confident.

“You saw it with Ethan Bear last year, you’re going to see it with Caleb Jones this year, and Bouch is going through that process of becoming a good NHL player,” Tippett continued. “He’s got lots of talent, he’s got lots of desire, and he’s learning how to do things — both off and on the ice. You have to let those players go through the process to become a good player before you can actually call them a good player.

“He’s moving in the right direction, and with the breaks we’ve had, every time we’ve seen him he takes another step forward.”

We suspect he’ll stay with the Oilers, at least until the AHL is ready to play in February. By then, Bouchard may have earned a spot in Edmonton for good.

Scrimmage Time

The Oilers held their first scrimmage on Thursday, as they got back into their own building after the World Juniors. Connor McDavid scored twice, including the overtime winner, while Jesse Puljujarvi forced overtime when he rattled home a loose puck with just seconds left on the clock.

Only James Neal and Gaetan Haas are still listed as “unfit to play.” Neal has been around the rink, but a Haas sighting has yet to occur.

“Neal is skating, Haas isn’t,” Tippett said. “I don’t anticipate either of them back any time soon.”

Here are the lines and pairings at the Oilers first scrimmage on Thursday:

Team White

Nugent-Hopkins — McDavid — Kassian
Ennis — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Nygard — McLeod — P.Russell

K.Russell — Barrie
Koekkoek — Bouchard
Niemelainen — Stanton

Team Blue

Archibald — Turris — Puljujarvi
Benson — Khaira — Chiasson
Quine — Marody — Cracknell
Kahun — Shore — Griffith

Nurse — Bear
Jones — Larsson
Lagesson — Lennstrom

He’s Back

It was Dominik Kahun’s first skate as an Oiler, and he made one lovely play as he found Seth Griffith in the slot with a lovely pass that made you wonder, how on earth did Kahun see the former Manitoba Moose in the first place?

“He’s an interesting player,” said Tippett. “Great skill, great vision.”

When Kahun signed in Edmonton, it was a toss up on how many of his friends wanted to know about him and his new team, and how many asked about Leon Draisaitl.

“In Germany, Leon got the Sportsman of the Year (award), so everyone is talking about Leon. When I signed in Edmonton, everyone asked me about it,” said Kahun, who goes way back with Draisaitl. “We played together for five years and lived in the same apartment together. If anyone asks me about Leon, it is always hard to say, because we are so close.”

Kahun played on a line with Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, and is sure to get a shot on Draisaitl’s left side here in Edmonton. It’s only a matter of time.

“Leon is a top player in the league, and Malkin too. They are both very, very skilled,” Kahun said. “They can both move the puck, shoot and score. With Leon, I played a long time with him. On the national team we always played together. The connection would still be there a little bit.”

Tippett will be the one who decides when Kahun is ready for the job. But a Kahun, Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto line would be quick and talented, of that there is no doubt.

“He adds skill to our group, and has a relationship with Leon,” Tippett said. “I’ve watched him for the last couple of years. He’s a smaller guy but he’s competitive, and he’d got great vision. We were looking to add depth at some skill positions, and it was a good signing for us. He looks like he can be a good player for us.”

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