Name: Evan Bouchard
Team: London Knights (OHL)
Stats: 67 GP, 25 goals, 62 assists, 87 points, 54 PIMs, +23 plus-minus rating
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 4th (North American Skaters)
NHL Comparable Player: Dougie Hamilton
When the hockey term “offensive defenseman” gets used, people’s minds usually envision a specific type of player: someone with blazing speed, dazzling hands, smooth puck movement and the overall ability to make fans jump out of their seats. Popular NHL superstars like Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban fit this description perfectly, helping to enhance it.
Draft-eligible blueliner Evan Bouchard doesn’t fit this particular mold, but if you’re looking for a defenseman who can produce heaping amounts of offense, you need look no further.
First, let’s start with what Bouchard isn’t. Unlike Karlsson, Subban and other offensive defensemen, the 6’2” blueliner isn’t an especially talented skater. His skating isn’t really a weakness, as he has long strides and can generate a good amount of power from his lower body, but he’s not the type of player to go end-to-end with his jersey flapping behind him. And while his puck control and stick work are certainly above average for a defenseman, you won’t see Bouchard breaking many ankles with quick, dazzling dekes.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to what Bouchard does well, and boy, there’s a lot.
When the Oakville, Ontario native gets the puck on his stick opposing players start to sweat because there are so many different ways that he can beat you. Bouchard is one of the best passers in the entire draft, able to whing the puck with authority directly on to the tape of his teammates, even under pressure and through traffic. He also uses the boards incredibly effectively, sending perfectly angled bank passes either to help start the breakout or find a teammate up the ice behind enemy lines. Not only is his passing ability one of the best in the entire draft, but so too is his shot. His wrist shot is phenomenal, hard and accurate, and he can use it just as effectively to beat a goalie clean, create rebounds or set up tips and deflections. It’s a weapon on it’s own from the point, but it’s especially effective when the right-shooting Bouchard jumps up into the rush or roams the offensive zone to find scoring chances, which he does frequently. Additionally, his slapshot is a sight to behold, a screamer that can easily pick the top corner of the net, making it nearly impossible to stop. He loves to shoot the puck, too, finishing 2nd in the entire OHL in shots with a staggering 297 in just 67 games, a rare total for a defenseman.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, Bouchard also possesses an elite ability to process the play. It’s almost uncanny, really: Bouchard looks so calm and poised, like he’s barely even trying, but then he’ll make an incredible play that catches the entire opposing team off guard, showing that he was one step ahead of everyone on the play the entire time. He’s surgical, able to precisely dissect defenses. If you take away one of his options, he usually has one or two up his sleeve that are just as good. The London Knights are the top development organization in all three of the CHL leagues, by far and away, and it’s obvious that Bouchard’s composure, decision-making and professionalism have benefited a ton from his environment.
For all the good that’s here, the only major question mark that still remains about Bouchard is whether or not he plays a little too calm out on the ice, specifically in the defensive zone. There were a number of instances this season where Bouchard looked flat-out lackadaisical in his own end, floating around nonchalantly and failing to break the cycle or prevent scoring chances against. He doesn’t need to be a Tasmanian Devil in the defensive zone to be effective, but he does need to do a better job of getting into lanes and tying up and boxing out opposing forwards, which should be easy enough for him to do because of his big frame. It needs to be mentioned here, however, that Bouchard logged a ridiculous amount of ice time for London this season, so perhaps some of this subdued play was the result of simple exhaustion. Surrounding Bouchard with a better defense group and reducing his minutes a little might help alleviate this problem, but that’s still something that’s not fully determined.
Overall, despite these concerns, Bouchard remains an incredible prospect, undoubtedly one of the best in this year’s draft class. He just does so many things at an elite level that one can’t help but think his ceiling will be sky-high if he can sand off the rougher edges of his game.
He’s likely long gone by the time the Dallas Stars get to make their 2018 1st round selection at 13th overall, but if, by some small miracle, Bouchard is still on the board, it would be hard to defend the Stars picking anyone else. A potential defense pairing of Bouchard and Miro Heiskanen could easily grow into one of the NHL’s best in due time, a notion that’s just too tantalizing to pass up.