Friday, April 27, 2018

2018 NHL Draft Preview: Evan Bouchard

Hi everybody, and welcome back to another look at draft-eligible players for the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas.

Today we look at Evan Bouchard.

Right-shooting defenseman for the London Knights, OHL

6'2" 191 lbs
67 games, 25G 62A 87 points

His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #15
ISS Hockey - #6
FutureConsiderations - #10
McKeens - #6
NHL Central Scouting - #4 (NA Skaters)

With a meteoric rise up the draft boards this season, we turn to Evan Bouchard. Before looking at his skillset, the main reason behind Bouchard's rise up the boards is because of the openings left on the London blueline after departures from regulars like Olli Juolevi (went to play pro hockey in Finland) and Victor Mete (played with the Montreal Canadiens), Bouchard had significant opportunity as he found himself slotted in the #1 defenseman position for the Knights. Needless to say, he took the role and ran with it.

Bouchard is a two-way defenseman with good size and skill. He has a fantastic arsenal of shots, be it slap shot, one-timer, wrist shot, etc. He has a great knack of getting the puck to the net. I know there are a lot of buzzwords that are used in draft reports, but what really really impresses me about Bouchard's play is ho poised he is. He is able to bob and weave (not necessarily the best term to use) to open up shooting passing lanes. Bouchard is also extremely smart with his pinches and offensive zone decisions. These skills allow him to be an excellent quarterback on a team's Powerplay. His 87 points were the highest total out of any draft-eligible CHL skaters (first-time eligible), and his 297 registered shots on goal was the 2nd highest in the OHL. I should also note that while his numbers are stellar, they are likely the result of the huge minutes he plays. There is a reason he plays so many minutes, and his offensive skills are highly polished and elite, but it's important to know the context surrounding numbers, especially for defensemen.

Bouchard is no slouch on the defensive side either. He's been responsible for playing in all situations on the ice for the Knights.  In fact, while time on ice isn't an officially recorded stat in the CHL, reports have him playing upwards of 30 minutes a night for London. Defensively, Bouchard maintains good gap control and is able to keep opposing forwards out of the dangerous areas of the ice, for the most part. His defensive zone positioning is excellent. He uses his long reach to help this as well. However, this is where two of Bouchard's most significant areas of improvement are exemplified: his average skating speed and defensive zone decisiveness. Bouchard isn't a poor skating by any means - in fact his overall mobility is excellent -, but I do think that if he doesn't try to get faster, it will significantly hamper him, especially as the NHL continues to get faster. There are a few occasions where faster opposing forwards can breeze by him. He tries to limit this by using his long reach and it works for the most part, but I don't think that will cut it in the NHL, and it may even lead to penalties. His skating is good enough to keep up with the play, backskate, and maintain gaps throughout the play, but this is an area where he can definitely improve. In terms of defensive zone decision-making, Bouchard sometimes has a tendency of puck-chasing as well as knowing what to do when he gets the puck in the slot in the defensive zone, or directly in front of the goalie. I'm definitely not discounting the idea that maybe this is fatigue catching up to him, but with some improved mobility, and more refined decisions in the defensive zone, Bouchard has the potential to be a fantastic defenseman at the NHL level.

Evan Bouchard can play either defensive side, and does really well either way. I like him better on the right side, but that's just my personal preference. Bouchard is is also heralded as practically a "one-man breakout machine". He's stellar outlet passes and decision-making with the puck on his own blue-line will be the biggest asset in his transition to the professional game. Bouchard is a highly-polished offensive defenseman with a stellar defensive game. He is likely to go very high in the draft in June. I can't commend his passing and vision coming out of his own zone enough. One other components that he needs to improve include, like for any young prospect- consistency in his game. Bouchard plays a very pro-ready style game and doesn't shy away from physical contact.

Bouchard has top-pairing potential and has a very high floor as well. He will likely go in the early teens, so I'm writing about him just for the off chance the he does fall to #17. A stylistic comparison for Bouchard would be John Carlson. There are very few holes in Bouchard's game, and he is a very good combination of strength, good wingspan, offensive output, and defensive zone breakouts. What we have here is a player that could step onto an NHL roster as soon as October.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Evan Bouchard. Thanks for reading!

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