Evan Bouchard’s Pro-Style Game Is Allowing Him to Find Great Success In His Draft Season

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.

Advertisements

Interview with Tanner Richard!

ImageToday, I had time to conduct an interview with Tanner Richard. Tanner is a 19 year old forward playing for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. He was drafted in the 3rd Round (71st Overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even though he was born in Markham, Ontario, Canada, but he represents Switzerland on the national stage. Even though he is relatively young at just 19, he has played pro in both Switzerland and Canada. Before we get into the interview, just the usual promotion stuff. Follow me on Twitter @hkyblogger and follow Tanner @TRichard27. “Like” us on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/NotYourAverageHockeyBlog

Like usual, we are in bold.

First off, how has your day been?
Well, seeing how I’m laying in bed sick and have been since Friday night, my day has been kind of miserable. It’s frustrating having to lay here in bed and not be able to do anything. Missing 2 practices and a big game makes it even worse.
 
So many of our readers might not know who you are, so a little bit about yourself? Maybe a cool fact?
Hmm.. Well I’m a Swiss kid playing hockey in Canada just trying to make it to the big leagues and live the dream. Cool fact, I speak 4 languages. English, German, pretty good French, and then Italian. Italian I understand a fair amount, but my speaking level I’m still working on.
 
What kind of player do you consider yourself? (scorer, grinder, playmaker etc.)
I would say I am a playmaker and I think my stats form the past would say the same. Although lately I have found a bit of a scoring touch. I hope to keep up both parts now.
 
Was hockey your only sport that you played growing up?
No. Growing up in Switzerland where soccer is the country’s first sport, it’s kind of like hockey here. Almost every kid tries hockey, well there it’s vice versa. I played soccer for a few years but decided to stick to hockey.
 
So many players that I interview don’t go through the OHL, instead, they go through other junior leagues like the WHL and NCAA. So what’s the OHL like?
I don’t know too much about the NCAA, I mean I’ve gotten the chance to talk to some guys but don’t know too much. I would say the OHL is a bit similar to the WHL. After all, they’re both in the CHL. The main difference I would have to say is the travelling though. I have a few buddies in the WHL and they travel a lot more than we do. They go on like 2 week road trips and stuff and have beds in their team bus, we don’t have that. Some of the OHL teams I think have a few bigger road trips than we do in Guelph, that’s because we’re located really well. Our longest road trip this season was 4 days. In those 4 days we played in Peterborough-Ottawa and Kingston.
 
Take us back to the Draft. What happened, your emotions and emotions?
The Draft is definitely one of the highlights of my life so far. Just being at an event like that is something I’ll take with me through my whole life, be able to tell my children about and just never forget. Not just the getting drafted part, but just being at an NHL event like that, I remember on the morning of the first draft day we had a meeting and players like Brendan Shanahan, Mathieu Schneider, and Ryan Nugent Hopkins were there. They just shared some stories and talked about what to expect. And than once you get drafted you get welcomed by the whole staff of the organization. It felt amazing to be welcomed as a new member of the organization and still now is highly motivating to get to the next level. Being able to share the experience with my family and a few relatives and close friends, made it that much better.
 
What’s it like in the off-season?
I don’t know how it is here in the off season. But for me, in the off season I go back home to Rapperswil, Switzerland- my hometown. I train with the pro team there. Back home, as a player you are obligated to do the off season training as a team, it’s not individual like here. We have 2 training sessions a day. One is usually for strength, and than the other will be balance, cardio, skills development or something like that. Summer is really tough, but that’s where you get to be a better player than you were the season before. You can work on your puckhandling skills, your skating, your strength, your shot.. So many things!
 
What do you miss most about home during the season?
For sure my family and friends. Here after the weekend games we usually get one day off or so so a lot of the guys go home and still can spend time with their family and friends, but for me that’s not really the case. I’m fortunate enough though, to have my mom, my brother and my father come over once per season for a week and a half. All at separate times so I really value that time I get to spend with them.
 
So you represented Switzerland during the 2012 WJHC, what was that like?
The WJC12 in Calgary was the highlight of my hockey career to this day. It was so amazing. Being able to play in the Saddledome in front of a sold out hockey crazy crowd was breathtaking. Being the underdog, and the fact that Canada has rivalries with Sweden and especially Russia, the fans cheered their hardest for us. I remember a few times where I got goosebumps when the crowd would cheer “Go Swiss Go” or when we would score a goal and the place went nuts.
 
What has been your highest point of you career so far?
Scoring the OT winner for Switzerland at the WJC12 in relegation round against Denmark to keep our team from getting relegated.
 
Lowest point?
Losing to Russia in the quarterfinal game in Ufa at the WJC13. 
 
How did you persevere from that?
Losing to Russia in that game after a shootout was the most heart breaking hockey moment of my career. When you want something so bad, and you’re so close to success but than it all turns around and you lose, that really destroys you. We were ahead 3-2 and than they tied it up with 90 seconds to go. We than had a few good chances in OT and could have just as well beaten them in the shootout, except we didn’t. 90 seconds away from advancing to the semi finals and we would have been guaranteed to play for a medal. I’m sure for a Canadian that’s normal, but as a Swiss player being that close to a medal, you don’t have those opportunities all that often. Also the fact knowing this was my last shot with the junior National team, made it a bit worse because there’s no shot at it next year. For many of the guys there will be, but not for me, I’m too old now, my time is up.
 
I like to ask some random questions just to show the human side of hockey players and to make the interviews memorable. So here’s a few:
 
Favourite type of food?
I love a great steak, but being form Europe and being so close to the Italian border I’m fortunate enough to be able to eat some of the best Spaghetti and Pizza in the world.
 
What’s on your iPod right now?
The last few months I’ve really been listening to a lot of Drake, I’d love to see a concert of his some day.
 
Every hockey team does pranks. What’s the best you’ve seen or were part of?
This summer at Tampa Bay’s development camp, I remember a guy put a coat hanger in the back of my pants and than when we went out for the scrimmage all the fans started laughing and I didn’t know why until one of the trainers let me know why. That was pretty embarrassing  he got me good. But I have 6 months to come up with something to get the guy back who got me! 🙂
 
Other than that just little things in the room, shaving cream in one of the player’s pockets. Cutting up a guys skate laces, hiding their sticks. On road trips the big thing is to lean water buckets on top of the door so when you open the door it spills all over you.  Unfortunately that ended up ruining one of the guy’s laptop this year.Also tornadoing guys’ hotel rooms and hiding the mattresses outside or on the balcony and stuff like that. All just little things that are in good healthy fun. I usually don’t take part in that kind of stuff though, I’ll more often just sit back and laugh at the guy who got pranked!

 

Subject you hated most in school?
Science, I was terrible. Every class it would just be a battle to get through the lesson.
 
Last question. Any advice for aspiring hockey players?
-Work harder than the guy next to you. Hockey doesn’t owe you anything, but you still get a chance, make the most of it. 
-Have fun, play every shift like it’s your last and get better every day.
 
Thank you for your time.