I have called London, Ontario my home for the last 6 years of my life. It’s a pretty close-knit city with a population of about 384,000 people, geographically right in the center of Detroit, Toronto, and Buffalo. In every sense of the term, it’s as big of a hockey hotbed as you can find. The area has been the home of NHLers such as Eric Lindros, Drew Doughty, Logan Couture, Jeff Carter, Corey Perry, Travis Konecny, Nazem Kadri, Joe Thornton, Andreas Athanasiou, Bo Horvat, and a host of others. If you haven’t met any of the NHLers that I mentioned above personally, you’re bound to know someone who has (e.g., a friend of mine who used to live in the apartment two doors down from me used to play minor hockey against Logan Couture and Drew Doughty, another friend has had run-ins with Jeff Carter at the beer store during Summers; I myself work right across from the Lindros Legacy Research building, where they conduct concussion research). People here are very passionate about hockey, and it’s impossible to walk around town without seeing people in Knights gear. And over the last 15 years, the Knights have given fans plenty to be excited about. Two Memorial Cups in 2005 and 2016, five Memorial Cup appearances since 2005, and a reputation as being one of the top destinations for young talent to play in all of junior hockey. Since 2007, 39 players have been drafted out of London, and 15 of those were first rounders. This leads all teams in the CHL and is 2nd only to the USNTDP in terms of players drafted in that timespan. Not bad when you consider the fact that the only organization to produce more drafted players is a centralized national hockey program. London, in fact, is 3rd all-time in terms of the number of players drafted into the NHL, behind only the Peterborough Petes and the Oshawa Generals, and has produced more 1st overall selections at the NHL Entry draft than any other team on the planet. Over the years, the alumnus of the team has been stacked with talent the likes of Brendan Shanahan, Dino Ciccarelli, Rick Nash, Darryl Sittler, John Tavares, Patrick Kane, John Carlson, Bo Horvat, Max Domi, Mitch Marner, Olli Juolevi, Matthew Tkachuk, Max Jones, Vlad Namestnikov, Olli Maatta. It is, in short, one of the best organizations in all of junior hockey when it comes to finding and developing young talent on a perennial basis.
While the 2017-2018 team is not as dominant as some of its predecessors, it features one of the biggest rising stars in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Evan Bouchard is currently ranked 5th by NHL Central Scouting Services on the list of North American skaters, and that could rise even more in the final rankings. Bouchard was someone that I have had my eyes on since his rookie season in 2015-2016, where he was a steady presence on the Knights’ blueline, and appeared in a total of 53 combined regular season and playoff games games, scoring 2 goals and adding 17 assists in his rookie campaign. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore season that he started to blossom on the offensive side of the puck, appearing in 82 combined regular season and playoff games, and finishing the season tied for 1st in defensive scoring on the Knights, scoring 14 goals and 37 assists, while being one of London’s most dependable defensive players. If there were still any doubts that Bouchard is a legitimate blue chip defensive prospect, Bouchard’s campaign this year has been as thorough of a refutation of those doubts as you can find. With the departure of both Victor Mete and Olli Juolevi, Bouchard has seen a greater role with the Knights, not only becoming the captain of the team, but leading his team in scoring, and leading the entire OHL in defensive scoring, with a jaw-dropping 25 goals and 62 assists through 67 regular season games played, becoming the first defenseman since Ryan Ellis to register 80 points or more in their first year of draft eligibility. He finished the regular season 8th in the entire OHL in scoring, beating out the next highest-scoring defenseman, Nic Hague, by 9 points, and the next highest-scoring draft-eligible defenseman, Ryan Merkley, by 20 points. And he did so while playing up to 30 minutes per game when you factor in special teams. If it weren’t for Andrei Svechnikov playing in the OHL this year, Bouchard would easily be the best player available out of the OHL, hands down.
Unfortunately Bouchard's playoff run came to a short end, as the Knights were swept in the first round by the Owen Sound Attack in the first round of the OHL playoffs. Before that happened though, I got to go see the Knights play live in Game 3, and took live scouting notes. Bouchard finished the night with a goal, a primary assist, and registered 5 shots, but was a -3. It is not for any lack of effort though on Bouchard’s part. Despite being a -5 through four games, it’s very clear that Bouchard was trying to carry his team on his back, and was second only to Alex Formenton on the team in playoff scoring, with 1 goal and 4 assists. His team was horribly outmatched and outplayed, and, from rewatching the highlights from game 3 with a fresh set of eyes, most of the goals that were scored against the Knights while he was on the ice were not even his fault (if you watch the highlights of this game, I am sitting in the section directly behind the left corner in the offensive zone on the left side of the ice, a few rows back). Most of my notes on Bouchard are taken from the game that I watched him in live, and I took some snippets of ISO footage to share with all of you. I recommend watching both the ISO and the highlights, as the highlights feature footage and angles that I wasn’t able to get due to my vantage point, and show some additional highlights of Bouchard in action.
Without further ado, let’s delve into what scouts see in Bouchard, shall we?
Name: Evan Bouchard
Date of Birth: October 20, 1999
Birthplace: Oakville, ON, Canada
Current Team: London Knights
Weight: 192 lbs
Player Comparison: Drew Doughty
ISS Hockey: 6th
Future Considerations: 10th
McKeen’s Hockey: 7th
NHL Central Scouting Services (North American Skaters): 5th
Regular Season: 67 GP, 25 G, 62 A, 87 P, 54 PIM, +23
Playoffs (thus far): 3 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 P, 2 PIM, -5
5v5 Stats: .47 G/60 (11th in OHL), .93 A1/60 (2nd in OHL among defensemen), 1.4 P1/60 (1st in OHL among defensemen), 8 Shots/60 (2nd in OHL among defensemen), 4.95 GF%Rel (3rd among 1st-time eligible OHL defensemen)
Evan Bouchard is an incredibly versatile defender with very few holes in his game. With respect to his skating, he has very good balance on his edges, and is able to pivot and change directions very quickly without losing a step. Bouchard’s first step is powerful, and he has a strong, smooth stride that lets him reach top speeds quickly. Overall, his mobility is one of his best strengths on the defensive side of the puck, allowing him to maintain good gap control while skating backwards, and when you combine that with his 6’2” frame and large wingspan, he offers a very enticing blend of strength to go with it, as he’s maneuverable enough and has enough reach that he can deal with smaller, shiftier forwards, and strong enough that he can physically match up against larger players. During the game I was watching, he definitely showed a physical element to his game, but he knows not to cross the line, and plays a pretty clean game. That being said, one knock on him has been that his North-South speed is average, but for his size, he’s very agile, and he has a great sense of timing that allows him to maneuver away from pressure and initiate the attack.
Bouchard is intensely focused on the ice, and is always dialed in on what’s going on around him. He makes a lot of smart reads both on the offensive and defensive side of the puck, and shows a calm patience when under pressure in his own zone. His awareness is excellent, he has a fantastic sense of how the play is going to unfold, and he is able use that sense to anticipate what his opponent is going to do and take the play away from them before they can do it. His stick is very active, and he looks to get it into shooting lanes to take options away from attacking opponents. Bouchard is a very dependable penalty killer, and uses his positioning, his stick, and his body to take lanes away from opponents, and is capable of initiating controlled zone exits very effectively with his rushing abilities. During the game against Owen Sound, him and Alec Regula (ranked 43rd on NHL CSS) were a fixture on London’s top PK unit, and they proved a very effective duo at shutting down Owen Sound’s powerplay. There was never any panic to Bouchard’s defensive game, even when the action in the defensive zone was at its most frantic (which it often was; they were outshot 42-26 by Owen Sound). He always carried himself with a quiet confidence and maturity that is very notable for a young man his age.
Where Bouchard really shines though, is on offense. Bouchard is as good of a quarterback on the point as you’re going to find in an OHL prospect his age. He is essentially the fulcrum on which London’s offense is based. Bouchard is involved in the play in just about every facet you can think of, and much that contribution starts from his own end, where he not only possesses a very good first pass up the ice, but his ability to rush the puck and control the play coming out of his own zone is marvelous. On the transition, Bouchard’s maneuverability and his ability to use his transitioning teammates makes him unpredictable, and dangerous every time there’s a break up ice. In the offensive zone, he almost always keeps his feet moving, unless he’s looking to accept a pass for a one-timer, and more than capable of holding the line and keeping the play alive. Bouchard covers a lot of ice in the offensive zone, makes smart pinches, but also knows when he needs to fall back to intercept a transitioning opponent. From the blueline, he is the primary distributor of the puck in the offensive zone, and is counted on to act as the linchpin that facilitates puck movement throughout the zone. His passing skills, and his ability to stretch the ice out in general with outlet passes is probably among the best in the entire draft class, and combined with a keen sense of vision, Bouchard is able to make what are normally difficult plays look pedestrian, but has enough sense that he will go for the high percentage plays normally. During my viewing of him, he was a staple on the powerplay. Dale Hunter double-shifted Bouchard on the man advantage the entire night, and it paid off, as he helped the Knights climb back from a 3-1 deficit with a primary assist and a goal (the former of which you can see in both the ISO footage and the highlights). Over the course of the regular season, Bouchard was among the league leaders in powerplay points, scoring 10 goals and 19 assists on the man advantage. Bouchard possesses a heavy, but erratic shot that can be difficult for goaltenders to read, and he shoots without any reservation. In fact, he was 2nd in the entire OHL in shots this season, shooting the puck 297 times. He likes to keep the puck low to the ice typically, and primarily looks to create rebounds that bounce into the low slot for his forwards to bury up front. During my viewing, he did this to great effect, and consistently seemed to be able to create shooting lanes for himself to get the puck through traffic. This often results in excellent scoring chances, and there were at least two or three circumstances during the game where Owen Sound’s goaltender or defense had to make an incredible goal-line stop to prevent London from scoring. Bouchard is particularly fond of trying to aim for his teammates sticks, and, instead of just bombing the puck on net, he will often make a slap pass for his teammates to deflect the puck on net. His wrist shot is nothing to sneeze at either, as it has an excellent release and impressive accuracy on it. When he’s able to walk in from the blueline and find a lane for himself to get his wrist shot on net, he is especially dangerous, and you’re just asking for trouble. Very few defensemen in this draft class can boast the goalscoring abilities that he possesses, or his vision in general.
What stood out by far the most to me about Bouchard is that he elevated his game and got better and better as the game went on. Admittedly, the first half of the game was a bit rough for him and his team, and, as you’ll see in the ISO footage, a shorthanded goal was scored against the Knights after one of his teammates mishandled a pass from him in the neutral zone. There were points in time where he seemed to be trying to do too much, was holding onto the puck a bit too long to make an extra move, passing the puck into opponents’ skates, and trying to skate through the entire Owen Sound team. But the second half of the game was a completely different story. He looked dialed in, was making great reads, and generated scoring chance after scoring chance for the Knights with his puck movement, and looked exactly like the two-way offensive dynamo that he is advertised as being.
Overall, Bouchard is a bona fide gem in this draft. While I think there are times when he can try doing a bit too much, his talent is undeniable, and his hockey sense is palpable every time he touches the ice. Bouchard is a multi-tool player with a ceiling very few players in this draft could boast. But perhaps most impressive of all to me is the calm maturity that he displays, his competitiveness, and the leadership qualities that he possesses. Bouchard has top pairing potential written all over him, and if I were to peg anybody in this draft as being captain material, Bouchard would be near the top of that list.
Note: The sequence at the end can also be viewed at 42 seconds into the highlight package linked above for a better angle of how the play unfolded. P.S., sorry for the shoddy camerawork.
Note: See 1:04 into the highlight package for this play.
Video Credit: bigwhite06 - YouTube
I am incredibly thankful that I got the opportunity to scout Bouchard live, as that would have been my last opportunity to do so before the draft. In the probable circumstance that the Wings miss out on the top 3 in the draft, and they’re picking in the range of 5th-8th, there is one thing that gives me some hope come June. With a draft class that’s loaded at the top with blue chip D prospects even after Dahlin is taken out of the picture, the Wings drafting Evan Bouchard would thrill me to unfathomable ends. He has quickly turned into one of my favorite choices to pick outside of Dahlin, Svechnikov, and Zadina. It would make this entire miserable season worth it if they could grab a D prospect of his caliber, and there’s an extremely good chance that that could happen. And I know that this is actually a sentiment that’s shared by some of the Red Wings top brass, as Kris Draper basically confirmed that Bouchard is around the top of the Wings’ wish list this June, along with Boqvist, Dobson, and Ty Smith. Out of all of those players, if I were to choose who I’d want, he would probably be my top, as he has probably the best blend of skill, size, and two-way play out of all of them, despite not being as flashy of a skater. Bouchard has the gamebreaking skill, smarts, and the poise and maturity to blossom into a legitimate top-pairing defenseman one day. I liken his style to that of Drew Doughty, as I know for a fact that he tries to emulate Doughty’s game himself, and I do see some resemblances. Other comparisons I’ve even heard are to Larry Murphy. Mind you, these are stylistic comparisons, and are not indicative that Bouchard will ever have the career that Murphy or Doughty have had. Regardless, the moral of the story here is even if the Wings are out of the top 3, there is a lot to be excited about, and an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the top 10 (and some pretty good options in the 20-30 range as well, I might add; we will be going over some choices for that pick in the coming months).
Anyways, that’s it for this one. I had wanted to get this written over the last month or so, but I decided to wait until I had the opportunity to see Bouchard live so I could take more detailed notes on him. When I return, I’m going to be discussing the freshman phenom that you know and love if you’re a fan of the Maize and Blue (or loathe if you’re a fan of the Green and White), Quinn Hughes. Stay tuned!