Evan Bouchard needs to play more for the Edmonton Oilers.
Aside from a 3-6 start and a recent stretch where they lost three straight to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 2020-21 season has been a successful one for the Edmonton Oilers. They currently find themselves in second place in the North Division with 36 points in 29 games, trailing only the Toronto Maple Leafs who lead the way with 40, but they need to find a bigger role for defenseman Evan Bouchard.
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Overall, there haven’t been many negatives to the Oilers’ season. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are non-surprisingly one and two in league scoring, and are managing to get some offensive support from other teammates as well, something that has been severely lacking in the past. On the backend, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie are near the league lead in points for defensemen, and in net Mike Smith has some of the better numbers throughout the entire league.
Despite the team’s success to this point, however, there are still a few areas of concern, perhaps none more so than the play (or lack thereof) of Evan Bouchard. The talented 21-year-old blueliner was taken 10th overall by the Oilers in 2018 after a 25 goal, 87-point campaign in 67 games played with the London Knights. Clearly, he has the skill to develop into a big time point producer from the backend, and he showed that at the AHL level last season, his first as a pro, with 36 points in 54 games for the Bakersfield Condors.
Evan Bouchard needs and deserves a bigger role with the Edmonton Oilers
After his impressive first season as a pro, there were many questions as to whether or not he would be able to crack the Oilers roster heading into the 2020-21 season. In a normal year, he likely would have at least started the season in the AHL, but given the fact the league start date was delayed due to COVID-19, he remained on Edmonton’s roster, though was healthy scratched through the team’s first 11 games before finally making his season debut in early February. Since then, he has played in 12 of the next 18 games, though has been scratched once again for the past four games.
Through the 12 games he has played, there have been moments where you can see his true potential. He is extremely poised with the puck for a player of his age, displays great on ice vision, and has a booming shot from the point that he is not at all shy to use. However, with the good has come the bad, particularly in the defensive end where he does not look NHL ready at this point, often being caught out of position or outmuscled for pucks along the boards.
Due to his suspect defensive play, Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett is clearly hesitant to insert him into the lineup, often times electing to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards on nights Bouchard is in the lineup. When he has dressed, he has been used sparingly, averaging just 14:08 minutes in ice time per game.
This isn’t an ideal situation given just how much potential he truly does have. A player with his skill level at his age needs to be getting reps in, and it seems like a no brainer that the Oilers should send him to the AHL to get big minutes.
In the coaching staff’s defence, it isn’t that easy. If they were to send Bouchard to Bakersfield, he would automatically be put in a two-week quarantine, which would not only hold him out of games but practices as well. That in itself is a concern, but what would be even worse is if after sending him to the minors they were hit with an injury or two on the backend, forcing them to either call Bouchard or another defenseman up. Again, this would result in a two-week quarantine, which is a long time in any season, let alone one with a schedule as condensed as this years is.
This is a tricky scenario for the Edmonton Oilers coaching staff and management, though one they need to figure out. In hindsight, had they known the AHL season was going to get underway shortly after the NHL’s did, they likely would have had Bouchard start the season in Bakersfield. However, at the time there were many uncertainties surrounding the AHL season, so it is impossible to blame anyone here.
Still, sitting in the press box for multiple games in a row and only playing 14 or so minutes a game when dressed is not what should be happening here. It makes sense that Tippett is icing what he believes is the best lineup to give his team a chance to win every night, as he should. Having said that, Evan Bouchard is a big piece of this organization’s future and if he isn’t going to get a more solidified role with the Edmonton Oilers, then they need to send him to the AHL even with the two-week quarantine. They simply can’t waste an entire year of his development like this.