Senators Sign Tyler Boucher, Changing Development Plan

On Tuesday morning, the Ottawa Senators announced that they had signed their 10th-overall pick from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Tyler Boucher, to an entry-level contract after he decided to change the course of his development. He was drafted out of the US National Development Program and had solid numbers playing in the United States Hockey League. However, he had a difficult transition after moving to the NCAA this season with Boston University.

Boucher’s Dissapointing Season

The season has not gone the way Boucher might have hoped. Before signing with the Senators, he played 17 games, scoring two goals and three points. Equally concerning is the smaller role he’s playing as a freshman that has compounded his struggles.

Tyler Boucher USA Hockey NTDP
Tyler Boucher, USA Hockey NTDP (Rena Laverty/USA Hockey’s NTDP)

Fans have been quick to criticize the pick, especially since Boucher wasn’t projected to go in the top ten. The term “bust” has already been thrown around thanks to his lack of offensive output, but the organization didn’t draft Boucher to be the next Alex Ovechkin, they drafted him because they thought he could be their Tom Wilson

It hasn’t been a dream start, but it is much too early to say that Boucher won’t help the Senators in the future. Now that he’s signed, his career at Boston University has come to a close, and the organization has options. Nothing is official just yet, but the picture of where Boucher will be going has been painted.

Is Sending Boucher to the 67’s the Right Choice?

Boucher’s Ontario Hockey League rights are owned by the Ottawa 67’s, who drafted him 143rd overall in the 2019 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, meaning if decides to play in the OHL, it will be in Ottawa. There are a couple of stipulations here, but that’s the direction that the Senators and Boucher seem to be taking.

“Obviously, we’re very happy to have signed Tyler Boucher to an entry-level contract today,” said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion. “Through the first half of the year, myself and other members of our hockey staff had conversations with Tyler. Obviously, things weren’t going the way that he thought they should go with Boston University. It’s a good program. They have developed a lot of good players. Having a chance to watch quite a few of his games and after one weekend, Tyler and I had a really good conversation with Shawn Donovan, and he was pondering leaving. We told him that whatever decision he would make, we would respect, which was very important for us.

In early December, I ended up talking with his agent, and they felt that going the 67’s route was the best option. Ended up talking with James Boyd at the 67’s, and with a coach of the calibre of Dave Cameron, we felt that this was the best route to go.”

Dave Cameron, Ottawa 67's
Dave Cameron, head coach of the Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

Boucher’s USHL numbers are pretty solid and more comparable to the OHL, considering they are the same age group. He only played five games last season, but in that time, he scored three goals and two assists. In the season before, he scored four goals and 11 points in 24 games. He has shown offensive ability in the past, but it isn’t the key to his game.

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When Boucher clears COVID protocol and assuming the season resumes, he will join the 67’s as one of their older players. The 67’s have gone months without some of their best players, and there will be an immediate reliance on him. He is a power forward who can get to the front of the net and brings that physical element with his 6-foot-1 stature. He’s going to get key minutes, so this move is great for the 67’s, great for Boucher, and, in turn, it’s great for the Senators.

What Will the Senators Get From Boucher?

It’s fair to be concerned about Boucher’s development path, but no one should be writing him off as a bust, at least not yet. He could score his fair share of points in the OHL, and people’s opinions will change almost immediately. What can the Senators expect from Boucher if/when he gets to the NHL and in the interim?

In junior, they should expect Boucher to hone his game. It’s unlikely he will jump into games and score a bunch of points, but he should be an offensive contributor. The hope is to see him grow with experience and be an important player on a team that, when healthy, is a good one, all things considered. This move isn’t about getting results today but building a player for tomorrow who the Senators can rely on.

Tyler Boucher USA Hockey NTDP
Tyler Boucher, USA Hockey NTDP (Rena Laverty/USA Hockey’s NTDP)

Is Boucher going to be the best player on the Senators in five years? No, probably not. But that’s not what they need him to be. There’s a misconception that every player drafted in the first round should be a superstar, but that isn’t the case. What the Senators have understood better than anyone else is that the big boards don’t mean much. If you have a player that you like, you take them when you can. 

The organization likes what Boucher brings. What exactly that will be when he reaches the NHL is unknown, but they have put him in a good place to continue his development. If he grows from now to the end of the season, they should be happy.

With Boucher, Patience is Key

No matter what you think of Boucher, patience is the key with him. Sens fans have been spoiled with prospects who quickly reach the NHL and make an impact, but that is never a guarantee. Boucher looks like he will take some time to round out his game, and that’s just how it is. That doesn’t mean he’s bad, but on the flip side, there’s never been a guarantee that he will pan out. For now, he’s in a good place to grow his game, and all we can do is wait.