Evan Bouchard, London Knights (OHL)
Position: Right Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.7
Height/Weight: 6’2, 192 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 71 GP 26 G, 66 A, 60 PIM, +18
NHL Central Scouting: 4th (North American Skaters)
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 5th
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 5th
ISS Hockey: 6th
HockeyProspect.com (March): 15th
In a draft loaded with high-upside offensive defensemen, Evan Bouchard is unique. Unlike the others, he does not particularly stand out at first glance. He’s a perfectly average skater. He doesn’t possess fancy stickhandling skills. He’s a robust 6’2, 192 pound player, but hardly a behemoth on the ice. With many of the others - Hughes, Boqvist, Dobson, etc. - it will only take a few shifts for their abilities to immediately jump out at you.
You could watch an entire game of Bouchard, though, and not see what the big deal is. In a way his deceptive influence on the ice reminds me of Derek Stepan. Not in a literal comparison of their abilities, of course, but instead thematically. Like Stepan, Bouchard’s impact becomes clear only after watching him for a while and analyzing the data. If you empirically test his individual abilities in isolation, nothing will stand out. Once you put him on the ice with nine other skaters playing within the structure of a game, though, his impact is massive.
A quick brain and confident decision making can go a long way for a defenseman. Bouchard sees the ice unbelievably well. He anticipates the way in which a play are about to transpire, and reacts as necessary. In the defensive zone, it means recognizing danger and diffusing the situation. It’s for these reasons that he played against the opposition’s top scorers and featured on London’s top penalty kill unit. Here is one example in which you’ll notice him (#2 in black) quickly recognizing the opposition’s set play off the draw and tying up the man in front well before he has a chance to get in position to screen or deflect the point shot.
Occasionally he will rush the puck up ice when he sees an opening, but he usually lets the puck do the work. Again, he anticipates plays as they are unfolding, and so when he gets the puck under pressure deep in the defensive zone he quickly finds the right outlets for a pass.
Offensively, Bouchard is a point producing machine. He’s not going to end up on many highlight reels, but they all count the same. Jeremy Davis of Canucks Army utilizes a statistical analysis called SEAL, in which players’ point totals are adjusted by factors such as age and league. Bouchard ranks seventh among all 2018 draft eligibles, and second only to Dahlin among defensemen. Furthermore, among all defensemen between 17 and 18 years old in the OHL over the last 20 seasons, Bouchard ranks third in points-per-game.
How does he do it? First, he shoots the puck. A lot. In the OHL this season, including forwards, Bouchard ranked fifth in shots on goal. He was tops among defensemen, and no others were remotely close.
Bouchard has every reason to shoot, too. There’s not much complexity to it. He sets up at the point, maybe moving into the high slot or circles, and lets loose. On occasion, though, he’ll spot a vulnerability in the opposition and activate down low, hoping to quickly snap a weakside pass on net. Here is his shot chart from this past season (posted with permission of creator Ian Fleming).
He has a heavy shot, both on quick wristers and long wind-ups, and sees shooting lanes well. It’s not jaw-dropping, but it’s how he amassed an astounding 25 goals, and plenty of assists as well from deflections and generated rebounds.
His high assist number goes back to the Stepan-esque theme I brought up earlier. It’s not fancy, but it’s efficient. He reads the ice unbelievably well, anticipates what lanes are going to open up and where players will be, and then makes a crisp, confident play. An assist like this one perfectly encapsulates it.
Yes, it takes good hands to make a perfect bank off the boards like that. This is largely a cerebral play, though. He picks his head up and in an instant recognizes he has a particularly speedy teammate (Alex Formenton) in position to make a transition rush with the defense on their heels and analyzes what kind of trajectory the puck needs to take to put Formenton on a partial breakaway. Here are a few more passes from Bouchard which highlight his vision and anticipation of how plays will develop.
Bouchard is not flashy and can’t singlehandedly break games open, and as one of the older players in the draft he doesn’t have as much boom potential as players ranked ahead of him. At the end of the day, though, he makes an impact in all areas. He creates goals for his team, and isn’t too shabby in the defensive end, either. It’s extremely hard to make dramatic improvements in skating ability, but if he can improve even from a C+ skater to a B- skater, then that will make a major difference. His defending also needs work, though as I said he’s already earned London Head Coach Dale Hunter’s trust in tough minutes. He projects as someone who will play all situations in the NHL, and he probably is not far off, either. I imagine whichever NHL team lands him will give him a shot in training camp, with the 2019-2020 season as a more realistic starting point for his NHL career.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated, “He was tops among defensemen, and no others were in the same stratosphere.” As reader NY Fan in Delaware pointed out, “stratosphere” refers specifically to the second-lowest layer of the earth’s atmosphere, and thus players can not be in different metaphorical stratospheres. Blueshirt Banter greatly regrets the error.
What Others Have Said
Evan Bouchard (via Sportsnet 650):
“I like to make a good first pass, getting it in the hands of the forwards with speed.”
Brock Otten, OHL Prospects:
“I do have some questions about his ability to defend and win battles consistently in the corners. But I have zero questions about his hockey sense.”
London Knights General Manager Rob Simpson (via The Athletic):
“Everything around our power play was focused through him. Everything went through him. The puck started with him up at the top of the point.”