The Edmonton Oilers selected Evan Bouchard 10th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Just two picks later, Noah Dobson of the New York Islanders heard his name called. These two young defencemen will have their names and careers linked because of how close they were drafted, despite starting out in opposite conferences.
Dobson just signed a new contract with the Islanders coming off of his entry-level deal. His entry-level contract slid for just one year and started in the 2019-20 season when he played enough games in the NHL to be considered a rookie. Bouchard took a bit of a longer detour to ensure he was ready. He got a trial run the season after he was drafted for seven games before developing in Junior and the American Hockey League (AHL) for the next two and a half seasons.
The time was surely worth the wait, and though Bouchard and Dobson took different paths at different speeds to get to their teams in the NHL, both have quickly turned into dominant top offensive talents in the NHL.
Noah Dobson’s New Deal & Ceiling
Lou Lamoriello was up to his antics again, as he waited to announce a ton of signings on the same day. Dobson was one of them and the largest of the group. He received a three-year, $12 million contract to remain with the Islanders that starts at the beginning of 2022-23 after becoming a restricted free agent this summer.
Dobson’s new deal makes him the third-highest paid defenceman on the Islanders and the 11th highest paid player on the team. Even though the young defenceman put up 13 goals and 51 points in his breakout season, the cap, upcoming contracts, and the prospect of making more money when more cap space becomes available must have all played a part in him signing a bridge deal. Lamoriello is also an old-school general manager that may still believe young players need to prove that they deserve big paydays before giving it to them.
Dobson will slot in on the second pair next year and likely for the foreseeable future since Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock make a very formidable top pairing. As a result, he is projected to play alongside Alexander Romanov, another young defenceman who was also just re-signed.
Dobson established himself as the go-to point man on the power play, recording three goals and 19 assists. But since there is no true number one defenceman on the team, ice time is spread out a little bit more, allowing him to play more. He may not be the most physical player, but he made about one hit per game and also received votes for the Lady Byng, showing his effectiveness defensively without putting his team at a disadvantage. The young defenceman was also very good at blocking shots, something that is often overlooked in his game.
As a 22-year-old defenceman, Dobson will only get better both offensively and defensively. He had the foundation of Barry Trotz’s coaching and his offence broke through the defence-first mindset instilled in every player on the team. It’s not out of the realm that he will be a point-per-game defenceman. That is why it benefits him as well to take this bridge deal and see just how good he can become in three years’ time.
Evan Bouchard is Comparable to Dobson in Many Ways
Despite taking more time in the minors and developing there, both Dobson and Bouchard broke out last season. Bouchard may have been a little less effective offensively, but he had also played just 21 NHL games to that point and started on the third pairing of the Oilers. Dobson had played 80 games before last season and a spot on the power play and second pairing were readily available, especially when health was a concern for the Islanders’ blue line.
Bouchard’s rise in the Oilers’ defence depth charts happened in a blink of an eye. One game he was lining up on the third pair as a near-rookie, and the next he was paired with Darnell Nurse on the top pairing taking on the opponents’ top players every night. Bouchard eventually settled into the second pairing where Dobson found himself as well.
Related: Oilers’ Bouchard Will Be 2nd-Best Offensive Defenceman in Their History
Bouchard had played just one too many games in 2018-19 to be considered a rookie last season in his first full campaign with the Oilers. He had spent time with Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson in the American Hockey League (AHL), which will help his development further at the NHL level. The pairings seemed to work last season, but now there is a rookie in Philip Broberg inserted into the lineup instead of veteran Duncan Keith after his retirement. It will switch things up a bit, but whether he remains on the second pairing and gets a strong defensive partner in Brett Kulak or slides up and once again plays with Nurse, he will be in a position to continue to grow and succeed.
As Pulock is the highest paid and considered the top defenceman on the Islanders, his presence stands in the way of Dobson moving up and becoming a top pair defenceman on the team. That isn’t a problem for Bouchard and the Oilers as Nurse, the Oilers’ number one defenceman, plays the left side while Bouchard plays the right.
Situations of the Two Teams
As Dobson is the 11th highest-paid member of the Islanders next season, there are a lot of players making more that should see their contracts expire or grow closer to a conclusion by the time the young defenceman’s three-year deal is up. This will free up the necessary cap space in order to lock him up long-term at a much higher number. To be able to give him the contract he projects to grow into in a few years right away, would have meant losing someone else on the team.
If Bouchard were to get the exact contract that Dobson got, it would rank Bouchard as the ninth highest-paid player on the Oilers. This also makes sense considering the Oilers have three players making more than anyone on the Islanders. It will definitely be helpful if the Oilers’ young defenceman didn’t get a long-term deal right away considering the length and cap given to the middle-tier players (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane, and Zach Hyman) recently.
A three to four-year deal for Bouchard would mean the contracts eating up cap space would be much closer to ending, thus easier to move, or have run out and the space be freed up. The Oilers would be handcuffed if Bouchard only wanted a long-term deal immediately, despite how appealing it is to lock up a talented young player. It would likely play out better and cost less to sign him to a long-term deal right out of his entry-level contract, but as I stated, would hurt them in the short-term when their Stanley Cup window is currently open.
Ken Holland has proven he isn’t keen on giving out big contracts or long-term deals to players who are unproven. He gave Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins seven and eight-year deals, but they were in their late 20s. Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi are both in their early to mid-20s and have been given their second bridge deal each. It works best for the team and Bouchard to give him a bit of time to become even better while allowing the Oilers to stay competitive without losing a key player. A contract exactly like the one Dobson just signed is the way the Oilers should go next offseason in regards to re-signing Bouchard.