As the Edmonton Oilers continue to win, young defenceman Evan Bouchard is growing into a big threat offensively. Not only does he have a well-known booming slapshot, but his wrist shot is dangerous; he’s been getting it done in his first full season in the NHL.
There has been one standout offensive defenceman throughout Oilers history, Paul Coffey. His franchise and league records will be nearly impossible to touch, but when everything is said and done and Bouchard has had the luxury of developing on the same team as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, he will have proven he is the second-best offensive defenceman to lace them up for the franchise.
Great Season Bouchard is Having at Age 22
Unfortunately, Bouchard just missed the qualifications to be considered a rookie despite only playing 21 NHL games before this season. In his first full campaign, he has scored 12 goals and 42 points in 79 games while averaging under 20 minutes a night.
He quickly asserted himself this season, scoring a goal and three points in the first four games. Initially, the Oilers slotted him in on the third pairing, but his play forced their hand to move him up to the top pair beside Darnell Nurse. This was when Dave Tippett was behind the bench and had less than ideal tactics for team defence, so Bouchard’s stats dropped. With some tinkering by Jay Woodcroft, after he assumed control behind the bench, Bouchard got back on track and has found great chemistry with Duncan Keith, playing the best hockey of his career.
In his past six games, Bouchard has been on the ice for 12 goals for and zero against at five-on-five. In those games, he has scored twice, added two assists, and had a second goal in their previous game called back. He has been picking his spots with wrist shots rather than slap shots and still possesses a great ability to get shots through from the point. He is also plus-11 with 22 shots over that span, all while playing under 20 minutes a night (from ‘Lowetide: Evan Bouchard’s deployment is working, despite play in Wild loss,’ The Athletic, April 13, 2022).
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Bouchard has gotten opportunities on the power play this season, but the coaching staff continues to go back to Tyson Barrie while he is on the team. Bouchard has a better and harder shot, so it’s a matter of time before he assumes first-unit duties. His shooting percentage of 5.94 percent is much better than both Barrie’s 4.14 percent success rate and Nurse’s 4.43 percent.
Bouchard already has the fifth-most goals in a season and seventh-most points in a season by a defenceman since 2000, and it’s his first campaign. He is only going to get better and see more opportunities as he grows into his prime.
In Bouchard’s first full season, he has already reached double digits in goals, and it’s climbing. He finally cracked the Oilers’ roster after they left a spot for him this season, and he’s taken full advantage, exceeding expectations. His quick, early development at the NHL level has made another contract on the back end look bad for the team.
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Barrie was signed for three years to account for Bouchard getting acclimated to the league. Bouchard is already a more effective defenceman defensively and offensively. If it wasn’t for Barrie’s contract, Bouchard would have been playing on the first power-play unit all season.
By next season, the Oilers will likely have to sacrifice Barrie’s contract to make room for the other free agents they want to bring back, so Bouchard will have an even bigger role on the team. If this is the case, he will get increased and more meaningful minutes and have a better offensive zone start percentage along with sole power-play duties. Barrie has three power-play goals and 21 power-play points this season. If Bouchard’s ice time increases in the offensive zone playing with two of the best players in the world every game, his points totals will rise significantly.
It’s not unrealistic to think that Bouchard will amass 20 or more goals in a season sooner than later with where his offensive skill is at already and the cast of offensively gifted players he has around him. A 60-point season is also not too far of a reach, considering he’s 22 years old and already has a 42-point season under his belt.
Oilers’ Offensive Defencemen Throughout the Years
You can’t talk about the best offensive defencemen in franchise or NHL history without mentioning Coffey’s name. For the Oilers alone, he holds the top six spots for the most points in a season by a defenceman with 138, 126, 121, 96, 89, and 67, all in a six-season span from 1981-1987. Of course, this was at a time when scoring was at its peak in the NHL, playing alongside Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, and Glenn Anderson.
Not only does Coffey lead all defencemen in Oilers’ history by a wide margin, with 669 points in 532 games, but he is also second all-time in points among defencemen in NHL history. There are only four defencemen in franchise history who have topped 200 career points: Coffey, Kevin Lowe (383), Charlie Huddy (368), and Steve Smith (218). None of these players, other than Coffey, were considered offensive defencemen and got most of their points assisting off of the elite offence of the team in the 1980s.
A few names that come to mind are Barrie, Nurse, and Oscar Klefbom. Barrie had a great offensive season last season, but 40 of his 48 points were assists, and he only recorded 21 primary points. Also, 23 of those 48 points came on the Oilers’ elite power play, which has continued in 2021-22 despite their struggles at times. In Barrie’s time in Edmonton, 44 of his 87 points have come on the power play, and 44 of his points have been second assists while players like McDavid and Draisaitl do the work and finish off plays. He received zero Norris Trophy votes last season despite leading the league in points by a defenceman. It was the first time in NHL history that happened.
Nurse is more of a two-way defenceman with offensive ability. He did post a 16-goal season in 2020-21, but he also played well over 25 minutes a night. His highest point total in a season is 41, which came in 2018-19. Bouchard has already passed that in his first season while playing under 20 minutes a night, as I will remind you.
Oscar Klefbom was as highly praised as Bouchard when he joined the Oilers. Playing his first full season in the NHL in 2014-15, Klefbom had his career year in 2016-17 when he scored 12 goals and 38 points. Other than this season, he never scored more than five goals over his seven seasons and has never topped 40 points, and he was the Oilers’ go-to defenceman on the power play. He was always injury-prone and played more than 66 games just once. He has been injured for the past two full seasons with an uncertain future.
The sky’s the limit for Bouchard, especially if the Oilers give him the proper opportunity. He has seized every chance to improve and grow over the season, and it’s really showing down the stretch, just in time for the most important part of the season, the playoffs.