A great draft season can allow a prospect to skyrocket up draft rankings, dramatically increasing their final draft position. Evan Bouchard has taken full advantage of that, and has solidified himself as a member of the consensus top 10 for the upcoming draft.
Bouchard, a defender for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), also holds the title of captain, a role typically reserved for 19 and 20 year old prospects that have already been selected by NHL teams. However, Bouchard’s maturity and leadership allowed him to seize control of the captaincy at the age of 18 after the Knights gutted their roster to kick off a rebuild, moving out their top four scorers, including St. Louis Blues top prospect Robert Thomas, the 20th pick in last year’s draft.
Bouchard has held a crucial role for the Knights this season, drawing top minutes at 5v5 and on the penalty kill all while also serving as the team’s power play QB. He has earned OHL Defenceman of the Month honours three times this year, being recognized in November, December, and February.
A large amount of London’s offence runs through Bouchard. At this time, London has scored 219 goals, and Evan Bouchard has registered a point on 83 of them, good for an involvement % of 38%. It’s very impressive for a player to be involved in over a third of his team’s goals, but for Bouchard, achievements like that are just as much of a part of a normal day as swallowing. In fact, like swallowing, Bouchard probably barely even notices that he does these things.
The right hand shot leads the OHL in points by a defenceman, a truly incredible feat for a draft-eligible player that has not been accomplished since 2013-14, when Anthony DeAngelo took the crown prior to be drafted 19th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Expect even better things from Bouchard than we have seen from DeAngelo. Bouchard brings defensive profiency to the table, something DeAngelo never had, as well as a clean slate in terms of off-ice issues.
DeAngelo was suspended once by his junior team, the Sarnia Sting, for abuse of a teammate, and was forced to sit out more games later that season after directing a racial slur at a referee, and was suspended another time the next year after another verbal altercation with an official. On top of that, he was also benched multiple times due to character issues during his time with the Syracuse Crunch, AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now, four years after being drafted, DeAngelo finds himself with the Hartford Wolfpack, and is a prospect of the New York Rangers, who are already his 3rd team. He passed through Arizona after being originally traded by the Lightning for a second round pick, just a few years after they originally used a first round selection.
Like I said before, expect none of that from Bouchard, who carries no off-ice issues, and has already demonstrated leadership capabilities as captain of his team.
Despite his point totals, the most impressive aspect of Bouchard’s play this season has been his ability to generate shots. He sits 2nd in shots in the entire OHL out of all skaters, including forwards years older than him. His ability to get shots through from the point, a valuable skill, is world-class. Erik Karlsson has mastered this, and it is part of why he’s the best defenceman in the world.
Being able to force pucks through to the net can generate countless scoring oppurtunities for a team, and it doesn’t take a genius to recognize why. For the majority of these types of shots, there are four to five bodies in between the shot location and the net. If the shot makes it through, that is a lot of moving objects for the goalie to keep track of, making it difficult for him to follow and react to the puck. To further complicate things for the netminder, the puck will often hit these players, changing its direction. Combine all of these factors, and you’ve got a shot with a good chance of bekng a very difficult stop for the goaltender.
Bouchard is very good at creating these shots. As we can see from the heat map above, via prospect-stats.com, the majority of Bouchard’s shots come from the centre and right point, where Bouchard plays as a right handed defenceman.
There are a few things that Bouchard does very well that allow him to avoid having his shots blocked or deflected wide.
Screenshot lifted from https://youtu.be/ksi13vyhK40
In this situation, Bouchard does two things very well that help him get the shot through and score a goal. First of all, he walks the puck in after initially recieving the pass just in front of the blueline. He recognizes that by doing so, he has a higher percentage of scoring on the shot because it will come from closer to the net. Then, once he does that, he winds up for his shot and picks his head up, searching for lanes to shoot through. There aren’t many players seperating him from the net, making it easy for a player of Bouchard’s calibre to put a hard shot at the net.
On top of his shooting ability, Bouchard also possesses impressive puckmoving skills. He utilizes the same “heads up” awareness while moving the puck up ice as he does when shooting, and this, coupled with strong passing, allows him to control the transition game, quickly headmanning the puck to his teammates. Like many defenders, Bouchard uses the net as a tool to give his teammates time to set up for a breakout, but is better than most when it comes to actually leaving the safety of the trapezoid and skating the puck forwards. Unlike other defencemen in this draft, he isn’t one to go end to end, preferring to defer to his forwards to enter the offensive zone. This is the same mindset possesed by most NHL rearguards, and should also lead to a faster transition to the NHL.
This is just one of several aspects of Bouchard’s game that emulates the pros.
Bouchard’s on-ice decision making is very similar to that of an NHL defenceman. He takes calculated risks both offensively and defensively; sometimes he will rush the puck, but only if a clear lane is available. He’ll pinch down the wall when an opposing forward has his back turned, but not when the opponent has a good chance at beating him. Defensively, he’ll aggressively attack a foe when they have their head down or the puck in their skates, but when they don’t, he’ll stick to the defensive system of his team.
Most draft eligible defencemen that have a similar offensive impact to Bouchard lack a lot of ability defensively. However, we have already established that Bouchard is unlike most. He is very much a “two-way” defender, and can be relied upon to shut down top forwards, as he has been trusted to do already with the London Knights. He is still susceptible to defensive mistakes at times; getting drawn out of position seems to be the most prevelant. However, it’s unlikely that that will carry over to the NHL. Expect it to be cleaned up somewhere during the transition to the NHL.
That transition shouldn’t take long for Bouchard. Although he very likely will not have an immediate NHL impact, expect Bouchard to be one of the first defencemen of this draft to reach the big stage.
Rasmus Dahlin, the Swedish defenceman set to be selected 1st overall in June, already possesses 82 games of experience playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League, the top men’s circuit in Sweden. At 6’2 and 183 lbs, he should be able to jump into the NHL next year. After him, the 2nd defender to make it could very well be Bouchard. The other four defencemen with a chance to go in the top 10; Adam Boqvist (5’11, 170 lbs) Quinn Hughes (5’10, 174 lbs), Ty Smith (5’10, 174 lbs) and Noah Dobson (6’3, 179 lbs) are all less physically mature as Bouchard, who is 6’2, 193 lbs and can already grow more facial hair than Sidney Crosby.
Evan will need another year in the OHL to continue to add to his already large frame and finetune his defensive play. After accomplishing that, he should be able to forego his final year of OHL eligibility to jump straight to the top level of professional play, where he should be able to assume a somewhat sheltered role on a team’s blueline as well as the QB role on their second powerplay unit. As he adjusts to the NHL, his ice time and role should increase until he holds a spot on the top pairing and powerplay unit.
The future is bright for Bouchard, who could easily become one of the top two-way defencemen in the league. He projects to be selected somewhere in the 6-10 range at the draft this June. Propeled by his steady, two-way play, whatever team gets him should be back in the playoffs in no time.