If You Dislike Evan Bouchard You Are Wrong
Today is the first in a few blogs I'm going to write over the next week about players that have earned the ire of some circles of the fanbase.
For much of this season Evan Bouchard has been this Oilers team whipping boy and there is some reason for it. Too many times this season we have seen Evan Bouchard make an error in the defensive end or an ill-timed pinch which ends up with the opponent scoring a goal. Whenever Bouch was making a mistake, it was ending up in the back of the net - part of that is on the brutal goaltending the Oilers were dealing with but the other part is on Bouch.
Let's talk about Bouchard's October and Bouchard's November. Through the first month of the season, Bouchard played 8 games and 124 minutes at 5 on 5 (3rd most among defenders). He was on the ice for 5 goals for and 9 goals against. His Goals Against Per 60, a stat that best represents the goals against compared to the minutes he plays was the third worst on the team at 4.35; basically meaning that for every 60 minutes Bouchard played at 5 on 5, he was allowing 4 goals against. The team was still outchancing their opponent when Bouchard was on the ice (67-62 in shots for and 28-20 in High Danger Shots for and against).
Those are not great numbers and while the whole team was struggling in this stretch, Bouchard's numbers were far worse. Darnell Nurse for example over this same period had a Goals Against Per 60 of 2.97 and was on the ice for 6 goals for and 7 goals against.
Now let's look at November.
Bouchard played 13 games in November and played 219 minutes, the most among Oilers defensemen (1 minute more than Darnell Nurse). He was on the ice for 12 goals for and 11 goals against. His Goals Against Per 60 fell to 3.00 and places him roughly in the middle of the pack for the Oilers. Here are the Oilers blueliners GA/60 in November (lower number is better):
Brett Kulak: 4.35
Vincent Desharnais: 3.73
Evan Bouchard: 3.00
Mattias Ekholm: 2.84
Cody Ceci :2.61
Darnell Nurse: 2.47
The Oilers generated 145 shots (best on the team) when Bouchard is on the ice and only 90 against. To compare, the Oilers allowed 127 shots against when Darnell Nurse is on the ice (who is actually having a great month). High Danger Shots For and Against were a team high 54 and only 39 against.
(Math is over here)
To sum up, Evan Bouchard had a brutal October where he made far too many mistakes and bad goaltending amplified his struggles. November has been a far different tale where the Oilers are outchancing and outscoring their opponent whenever Bouchard is on the ice. A combination of Bouchard's own play, as well as the slow improving health of Mattias Ekholm are both factors in November. You'll notice we haven't talked about the powerplay once in regards to Bouchard because we all know the value he brings there.
Bouchard is never going to be a defensive juggernaut but it's important to remember this is a 24 year old defenseman who is in only his third full NHL season. He absolutely needs to clean up the egregious errors in his game and react to dangerous situations with far more pace. We have seen that for long stretches in his game and as he matures we will see it with more consistency. This is why pairing him with a more defensively conscious player like Ekholm reaped excellent results last season.
Bouchard helps the team outchance their opponent at a heavy rate at 5 on 5 and he is far more than merely a PP specialist. He needs to clean up aspects of his game but what he brings to the team in the offensive end as well as his sublime passing from the defensive end and the neutral zone are worth the other warts in his game. This is a 24 year old defender, producing at a ppg pace and absolutely needs to be a part of the long term future of this franchise.
Thanks for reading.