I may be stating the obvious here, but the Edmonton Oilers have only made the playoff once in the past 13 seasons. Also, the blue and orange have also been missing an undisputed top-pairing defenseman since the departure of Chris Pronger, who alongside goaltender Dwayne Roloson, willed the Oilers into the Stanley Cup Final in the 2005-06 season. Coincidence? I think not.
During these dark ages, the Oilers and their fans have patiently waited for the arrival of potential top two defensemen such as Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse to break through the pipeline and evolve into all-star calibre defensemen. Though these players have made great strides in their overall development with the club, they just have not been able to live up to the all-around hype that got them drafted in the first round. But cue the rise Evan Bouchard, who has all of the potential and capabilities to be Edmonton’s next Pronger.
Bold Comparison, but Not Exactly
I think it is totally unfair to place such high expectations on a defenseman like Bouchard and hope for him to be aHall of Fame player like Pronger, but what I intend to argue is that he will be Edmonton’s first, definite top pairing d-man since the former Hart Trophy winner. When I say “definite,” I imply that on any other team around the NHL, Bouchard would be an undisputed top-two defenseman.
Players like Lubomir Visnovsky, Sheldon Souray, and Andrej Sekera have all been brought into Edmonton since Pronger left in an attempt to fill the offensive and defensive void he left behind, but I believe Bouchard, if developed carefully (and I emphasize again, CAREFULLY), will be able to check off all the boxes required to be a top-two defenseman in the next few years.
What Made Pronger a Top-Two Defenseman?
Pronger was certainly a rare breed when he played. Having a towering stature, long reach, and brute strength helped him command and create open space in all three zones, not to mention his booming slap shot from the point. In addition to his ability to log huge amounts of ice time, he also possessed a great amount of hockey sense with admirable leadership qualities too.
Pronger was a game-changer and, as we witnessed in Edmonton, had the ability to lift a team out of a deficit not just with is words but by leading by example as well. It is not very common for a defenseman to win the Hart Trophy either so that in itself speaks volumes for the amount of value he brought to a team.
Does Bouchard Have Similar Traits?
Bouchard is no Pronger, let’s get that straight. But what I am arguing is that he has qualities that are similar to what Pronger had and has the potential to unlock them to become a dominant figure in the league. For starters, Bouchard’s offensive prowess and ability to distinguish when it is safe to pinch deep is what sets him apart from other defensemen.
Being a right-handed shot is also a key trait he has, making it easier for left-handed shots (which the Oilers have an abundance of) to set him up for one-timers on the powerplay. The Oilers powerplay of the future will not only run through McDavid, but Bouchard will be the quarterback and main shot target on the point ready to unleash his “Bouch-Bomb” in all open situations, something the Oilers have missed dearly and have not gotten enough out of Klefbom.
Bouchard’s calm and collected demeanour is key as well, which can stabilize the rest of the defensive core while also preventing his other teammates from panicking in high-pressure situations just like Pronger did. It may be a while before he comes out of his shell and shows more exuberant leadership qualities, but Bouchard’s ability to lead by example will only add to his value on a team that lacks a leader on the back end. Heck, Bouchard will have a great opportunity to grow alongside the other young Oiler prospects like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and Philip Broberg and hopefully forge a good sense of camaraderie on the blue line.
We can’t forget about his excellent transition game and his ability to move the puck so cleanly from his own end consistently. Bouchard has so much poise with the puck and is always looking up ice looking to create something out of nothing. One thing that is for sure is that we will be seeing a lot of stretch passes to McDavid for the years to come. In this day and age, puck-moving defenseman either come at a premium price or are drafted and groomed by teams for years, therefore I think the Oilers are very fortunate to have Bouchard in their pipeline prepping to become Edmonton’s top, stud defenseman.
Where is Bouchard in His Development?
Though Bouchard still may have to work on his skating and using his size to his advantage a bit more in the dirty areas defensively, he will definitely make it a tough choice for the Oilers coaching staff when faced with a decision over whether or not to take him on the opening night roster this October. Given how the Oilers have rushed players in their development over the past decade in addition to general manager Ken Holland’s firm belief in grooming kids slowly into the NHL, I think that Bouchard will play the majority of this year in Bakersfield, on the Oilers farm team.
After racking up eight points in eight games (including three goals) in the AHL playoffs last season when he was called up from the London Knights, Bouchard has proved he is ready to play with men and can elevate his game to the next level, but since he possesses all of the traits to be a top-two defensemen in the NHL, the team will not rush him onto the roster this season and put his long-term development in jeopardy.
Oiler fans: temper your expectations, but I think we have a really special defenseman in the ranks and I believe he will be the brightest star on the blue line the club has had since Pronger.