The Edmonton Oilers have inked their first-round selection, signing defenseman Evan Bouchard to a three-year entry-level contract. Bouchard could potentially see that contract slide forward if he fails to play in 10 games for the Oilers this season.
Rated as one of the very best prospects available in the draft, Bouchard took an unexpected tumble down to 10th-overall where the Oilers eventually selected him. While some believed he would be the second defenseman off the board after first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, he instead watched as Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist were picked by Vancouver and Chicago respectively at picks seven and eight. The Oilers, who desperately wanted to pick a defenseman this season, happily snapped up Bouchard and could potentially insert him into their lineup without much wait.
Playing for the London Knights of the OHL the last three seasons, Bouchard has developed into an elite two-way defensive prospect who recorded 87 points in his most recent season. On the ice for incredible amounts of time each night, Bouchard was involved in nearly everything the Knights did in 2017-18 and led the team in scoring by more than 30 points. The fact that he is 6’2″, right-handed and can skate well enough to keep up with the NHL pace only adds to the package that Bouchard brings, and makes him an almost perfect fit for the Oilers going forward.
Still, it’s not guaranteed that he will join the club for the entire season. Last year the Oilers kept first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto with them until early November before sending him back to the junior ranks, and a similar path could be followed with Bouchard. Since Yamamoto played just nine games in the NHL his entry-level contract will slide forward a season, giving the team another inexpensive year for one of their top prospects. Cheap seasons for productive NHL players are incredibly valuable in today’s NHL, especially for the Oilers who have to continually worry about the salary cap due to their huge commitments to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. If they don’t believe that Bouchard is ready to make a real impact for the entire year, putting him back in London would allow them to push that contract back a year.
The argument against that obviously is whether Bouchard has anything left to learn at the OHL level. As one of the best players in the league already last season there are some who believe going back would only stagnate his development, especially given he was already probably at the limit of what a player can handle in terms of ice time. There aren’t more minutes to be had for Bouchard, though there could potentially be a new partner to work with. Boqvist, the previously mentioned Blackhawks prospect, is expected to join the Knights for the 2018-19 season and is an elite offensive defenseman in his own right. Though both are right-handed, there could still be plenty of opportunities to use the two together. Perhaps playing excellent minutes with another top talent would be beneficial to Bouchard, and with both on the blue line the team would surely compete for the OHL championship and perhaps even a Memorial Cup.