If one can produce offence the way London Knights defenceman Evan Bouchard has in his OHL career, it would usually be enough to garner top three pick consideration. Nobody has gone that far yet with Bouchard on their board, but his season has seen his star rise as a legitimate part of the conversation in the top five.
So, what’s the hang-up? There are legitimate concerns about Bouchard’s skating and commitment to the defensive side of the game. As CanucksArmy’s Harman Dayal pointed out in his excellent article on Bouchard, they’re legitimate concerns, too.
Evan Bouchard's skating has been the topic of much debate among the scouting community. My latest piece for @CanucksArmy turns to game footage to break down whether it should be a concern for the #Canuckshttps://t.co/kPWo8NZTcB
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) June 13, 2018
We’re still talking about one of this draft’s better defenceman, and one that could very realistically be the second one to cross the stage after Rasmus Dahlin. On the CanucksArmy consensus rankings, Bouchard skates at a leisurely pace into seventh overall.
- Age/Birthdate: 17.91 / October 20, 1999
- Birthplace: Oakville, ON, CAN
- Frame: 6-foot-2 / 192 lbs
- Position: Defence
- Handedness: Right
- Draft Year Team: London Knights (OHL)
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Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
Many in the industry consider Bouchard the second most pro-ready defenceman in this year’s draft; some even believe he could make an NHL lineup as soon as next season. I’m not that bullish — I think his spot on the CanucksArmy board suggests that neither are my peers — on Bouchard, but it’s easy to see why they feel so strongly about the big, right-shot rearguard.
There’s the obvious, Bouchard’s gaudy 87 points (25 goals and 52 assists) in 67 games this season. That mark was good enough for first among OHL defencemen (not just draft-eligible defenceman at that) and as Dayal pointed out in his article, the highest point total and point rate as an 18-year-old in that league since Ryan Ellis’ 89 points in the 2008-09 season.
When we adjust Bouchard’s scoring with the SEAL (Situation Era Age League) method developed by CanucksArmy’s Jeremy Davis, that production is even more jarring. Bouchard’s 1.34 SEAL adjusted points per game are the seventh-highest rate among first-time draft-eligible prospects and second only to Dahlin among defencemen.
Looking at the way pGPS (prospect Graduation Probabilities System) reflects on Bouchard’s shot at the NHL in light of this, using stature and statistical historically comparable players, he checks out with a 72.5% expected success — not bad, right? Based on the players in Bouchard’s cohort, pGPS tags him with a 34.9 expected points per 82 games rate.
The most effective of the tools in Bouchard’s offensive toolkit is his shot. It’s a booming, hard shot that finds its way through traffic with alarming regularity. Because of Bouchard’s excellent vision, he tends to put himself in excellent positions to unload that shot of his, too.
If the shot isn’t there, Bouchard is every bit as apt as a setup man. He’s always processing the game two steps ahead of the opposition. Coupled with a crisp, accurate pass, it’s a deadly combination. You’ll hardly be surprised to find out he’s a hell of a power play quarterback as a result; or that Bouchard does a fine job of breaking the puck out of the defensive zone.
Now for the bad — the reason Bouchard’s not a lock for the top three given his offensive bona fides. If you guessed skating, pat yourself on the back.
Don’t let anyone tell you Bouchard’s mobility isn’t an issue. I can’t add anything that Dayal didn’t cover in extensive detail in his article on the topic just a few days prior, but I can reassert the position therein. If you didn’t read it or don’t have any desire to for some strange reason, Bouchard’s top-speed is fine, but his first two steps, edgework, and lateral movement all need significant improvement.
It’s possible that Bouchard can overcome this flaw in his game or that he could improve with time. If Bouchard doesn’t, though, it’s going to limit his upside. It will turn him from a potential top pair, minute-munching defenceman that can contribute in both phases of special teams to a third pair power play specialist. Sure, Bouchard’s skating is the only major flaw in his game, but that’s a significant part of playing in today’s NHL. That’s the risk with Bouchard.
Overall though, when one weighs the pros and cons, Bouchard comes out in the black, and by a fair margin at that. He’s an excellent prospect in so many respects. The potential exists for Bouchard to be the third-best defenceman in this year’s class. If only there wasn’t a ‘but’ to consider. That’s why Bouchard checks in as the seventh overall prospect in CanucksArmy’s consensus ranking.
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Bouchard’s draft-eligible season came to close last week as the London Knights were swept by the Owen Sound Attack. Bouchard had a tremendous third season in the OHL, completing his regular season with a whopping 87 points in 67 games. The point total represented the highest mark for any first-time draft-eligible skater in the CHL – not just defenders but all skaters. His 297 shots were the second most in the OHL. He tacked on a goal and four helpers in four playoff games. Bouchard has watched his stock grow all season long from being a guy consistently ranked in the mid-20s to landing at fifth overall on Craig Button’s most recent list. The big, right-shot defender was the focal point of the Knights offence and often saw upwards of 30 minutes a game in all situations. He’ll be snatched up early this June and is the type of player who could conceivably crack an NHL lineup in the fall due to his late 1999 birthday and accomplished CHL resume.
CanucksArmy’s 2018 NHL Draft Rankings