With the news Oscar Klefbom would be out a couple of weeks with a bum shoulder, the Edmonton Oilers have once again looked to their AHL team in Bakersfield for a short-term solution, calling up highly-touted defense prospect Evan Bouchard. The move is considered interesting, if not a bit controversial.
This is not to say that calling up Bouchard isn’t the right decision. An argument can be made he’s the best available option to replace a player like Klefbom. But, with a priority placed on ripening prospects before bringing them to the NHL, that the Oilers have chosen this direction is being considered a bit of a head-scratcher by some.
Bouchard’s Call-Up is Not a Long-Term Thing
There’s a couple things worth noting here. First, this is not a long-term decision by the Oilers, but more a stop-gap move meant to keep Edmonton from both dropping down the standings and adding huge salary to the roster. Hammering home that point, the Oilers assigned Markus Granlund back to Bakersfield just to swap salaries.
Head coach Dave Tippett is probably eager to have a puck-mover and minute-muncher at his disposal but Bouchard won’t suit up on Wednesday versus the Boston Bruins since he’s still traveling. Second, it’s not likely the defenseman gets more than nine games this season unless he lights the world on fire with his play. Bouchard can play nine games this season before his contract slides and going over that mark is not exactly a scenario the Oilers want to be looking at. Anything more than that and the Oilers lose a year of team control on his contract.
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Bouchard Gets an Opportunity
Even without the injury to Klefbom, one can make an argument Bouchard has earned a look. He is the latest in a recent batch of call-ups for the Oilers and he’s the the most recent to potentially prove he’s close to making an impact in the NHL.
Few expected Ethan Bear would be as good as he’s been but he’s turning into a legitimate top-four and will likely never go back to the AHL based on his play this season. Kailer Yamamoto was called up and his production has been off the charts with 18 points in 18 games, part of one of the most effective lines in the NHL right now. Caleb Jones, Patrick Russell, William Lagesson, and Tyler Benson have also shown the Oilers are starting to develop their prospects effectively. Perhaps the AHL team has never been this stacked.
Some will argue Bouchard is playing at an elite level and is NHL ready. Those who have watched closely note he has improved in all areas, namely gap control, puck retrievals and defensive intensity. Can Bouchard be another success story? While nine games will be a small sample size from which to evaluate him, the Oilers are about to find out, assuming he plays.
More Moves Coming for Oilers?
By keeping their incoming salaries low, this could hint that GM Ken Holland is working on something else. Perhaps this means he’s got his eyes on a trade before the February 24 deadline, one that would see the Oilers add more salary to their books.
Obviously, the Oilers haven’t disclosed they’re working on a trade but with so many injuries, it now creates a situation where the team has numerous holes to fill and Bouchard’s call-up gives Edmonton flexibility in the event an opportunity arises to fill them. Furthermore, as other teams in the Western Conference add pieces ahead the trade deadline, the Oilers have yet to make any moves.
This will be an interesting few days for the Oilers. The team doesn’t have much money to add and Bouchard’s call-up simply brings with it more intrigue to an already interesting week where every move could mean playoffs or no playoffs.
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Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”