How Much Patience Should Oilers Have With Evan Bouchard?

The Edmonton Oilers didn’t match up well against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. It wasn’t the worst game the team has ever played, but mistakes cost the team and a couple of them were made by budding young defenseman Evan Bouchard.

Bouchard is young and already a very good offensive player for the limited amount of games he’s played. At the same time, he’s got a tendency to try plays that are risky, often not looking and putting one right on the tape of the opposition’s stick coming out of the Oilers’ own zone. Sometimes Bouchard recovers, sometimes — like in the 4-0 loss to Vegas — he doesn’t.

Bouchard Made Some Big Mistakes On Tuesday

He’ll get a chance to rebound with a better game on Wednesday versus the Chicago Blackhawks, but versus the Golden Knights, Bouchard was exposed as an inexperienced defenseman who still has a lot to learn. The aggressiveness with which Vegas hounded the puck carriers, especially on the power play, overwhelmed him and it led to costly turnovers, forcing numerous saves by Mike Smith until he wasn’t able to make one and the Golden Knights went up 1-0.

Evan Bouchard. Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Another giveaway led to a series of events that ultimately saw the Oilers go down 3-0, and another turnover early in the third period led to Vegas’ fourth goal which put the game out of reach. Whether it’s overconfidence or a tendency to panic a little, it was not Bouchard’s best showing this season.

All that said, one game, even a few games, shouldn’t dictate the future for Bouchard with this Oilers’ roster.

Bouchard Can’t Be The Next Jeff Petry

As Kurt Leavins of the Edmonton Journal wrote, “I see a lot of Evan Bouchard anger out there today.” He added, “Look, I’m the guy who graded him a “2” in our #Oilers player grades. But let’s not “Jeff Petry” this kid. It’s a process, and there will be bumps in the road.” Leavins is absolutely right. The fans, and sometimes the organization, have a tendency to think the sky is falling with their blueliners. That often leads to rash decisions.

Ethan Bear is the latest casualty of this way of thinking and he was moved to Carolina where he’s been a regular healthy scratch. One could argue that he’s not as good as some think he is. Others could argue his confidence is shaken because the Oilers were so quick to dump him. Edmonton did the same by moving on from Justin Schultz after asking him to do too much. That said, the worst mistake the Oilers made was with Jeff Petry. Petry was just coming into his own as an NHL defenseman and the Oilers shipped him out thinking he wasn’t ever going to be more than he’d shown with them. It was a huge mistake.

Evan Bouchard can not be the next Petry, under any circumstances.

Bouchard Is Different

Despite his mistakes, there’s a sense that the Oilers see Bouchard differently. Perhaps unlike other defensemen the franchise was quick to rush into the NHL, they know Bouchard is being asked to do a lot and will make mistakes. As much as every game matters this season and as much as the Oilers need the wins, GM Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett seem to have an understanding that Bouchard is their guy. He, for better or worse, is the team’s future on the right side.

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This could be why the Oilers signed Tyson Barrie. In the event that Bouchard has bumps along the road and hits snags as he climbs up the totem pole of importance for this team, Barrie is the guy there to back him up. It’s a good plan, as long as Barrie does his job. Tuesday night, both Bouchard and Barrie struggled and that meant bad things for the Oilers.

Patience is key here. Understand that Bouchard won’t be perfect, but give him chances to show he’s not as bad as he was against Vegas. More often than not, a player of his skill and talent will do the right things and in the long run, that’s best for the Oilers.