Duncan Keith should get credit for being better than most Oilers fans thought he would be when GM Ken Holland worked a widely-criticized deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and traded for Keith this past offseason. Keith should get credit for producing on the second-pair at the age of 38 years old and not letting the doubters and naysayers derail his first season with the Oilers. He should get credit for regularly playing more than 20 minutes per night and for being a steady replacement when a guy like Darnell Nurse goes down.
Keith should get credit for a lot of things, but where he’s been the most influential and should get the most credit has been how he has affected fellow defenseman Evan Bouchard.
Keith Has Been A Godsend For Bouchard
It was imperative Bouchard make the jump this season from the AHL — honestly from sitting out all of last year as a member of the Oilers — to the NHL. He’s not technically a rookie based on games played but he’s not much more than that and the Oilers needed him to show he had the potential to be a top-four blueliner with the ability to quarterback a power play.
The power-play time has come in spurts but Bouchard’s transcendence up the totem pole that is the Oilers’ blue line has been incredible. He hasn’t just shown he can be an NHL regular, but he’s surpassed Tyson Barrie in terms of deployment and he’s a key part of this Oilers team going forward. Bouchard wound up with 43 points in 82 games and averaged 19:48 per game in 2021-22. He doesn’t get there if Keith is not regularly paired with him almost as soon as head coach Jay Woodcroft took over behind the bench.
The Pairing Has Worked Wonders
A veteran with a near-rookie is never a bad idea. If the veteran is as decorated as Keith is, — three Stanley Cup wins, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players — can hang and be reliable on defense, even better. All the “rookie” has to do is be open to listening and take chances when the right opportunities arise. If both can play their part, the tandem works. In the case of Bouchard and Keith, it’s been excellent.
As Kurt Leavins writes:
Duncan Keith is no longer the 30-minute per game man he was for Chicago in the playoffs. But he has been highly effective for the Oilers at 20 post-season minutes a night, and it is hard to imagine a better partner for Evan Bouchard to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut with. Bouchard has taken a major step with Keith attached to his hip. “Bouch” has 5 points in 3 games, is playing 2nd pairing minutes and is +2.source – ‘Are these playoffs a window closing or one opening for the Edmonton Oilers organization: 9 Things’ – Kurt Leavins – Edmonton Journal – 05/08/2022
Keith has calmed Bouchard down, been a vocal and positive leader on the ice, and he’s taken Bouchard under his wing, teaching him about urgency and dependability. Bouchard said of playing with the veteran: “He’s really easy to talk to, really easy going.” He added, “In the game, he is an intense person, and he wants to be a perfectionist, kind of, and I think that’s what’s kept him around, what’s made him great for so many years.” These are good characteristics for Bouchard to be picking up.
Keith Is Already Acting Like a Coach
It’s not clear how long Keith will keep playing hockey. He’s got one additional season left on his current deal with the Oilers and then he’ll need a new contract if he wants to keep playing. When he’s eventually done, coaching might make a lot of sense for him based on what Bouchard has said of Keith’s mentorship skills.
“A huge thing is communication,” Bouchard said. “After every shift and between periods, he’s always wanting to help me help us as a pair. It’s big.” Bouchard talked about how Keith will examine the video after a play and then work with Bouchard to understand what happened. His entire focus is on improving the two as a unit. “When he sees things, and he’s been through it all, he knows the best parts to talk to me about,” Bouchard explained.
Keith called Bouchard a player who gets it and is getting better and better with each passing game. The best advice Keith has offered is to stay reliable on the defensive end and the offense will come. When you have the Bouch-Bomb as part of your repertoire, perhaps it comes a little easier.
Keith said, “We all [work on it], not just him. Just continuing to develop good habits and that predictability on the defensive side of things. He just seems like he’s getting better and better.”
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.”