One of the fastest rising prospects in this year’s NHL Entry Draft is Evan Bouchard of the London Knights. The draft hype has been all about Rasmus Dahlin, but in a class that is filled with high-end defensive talent, Bouchard is starting to stand out at the top of the second tier.
Originally thought to be a mid to late first round pick, Bouchard has spent the season dominating the OHL and is now a lock to be selected in the top-10. He didn’t only stand out among the draft eligible players this year, he was among the best defensemen in the entire CHL.
What makes Bouchard so appealing is that he plays a style that can easily be transitioned to the pro game. He is big, has a right-handed shot and eats up a lot of ice time. That's the kind of player old-school scouts love. Add that to the fact that he is a smart player that produces at an elite level and you’ve got a prospect that is bound to be selected incredibly high on draft day. He doesn’t move as well as guys like Ryan Merkley or Quinn Hughes, but Bouchard is a well above average skater.
His play this season didn’t go unnoticed by the people around the league. In the OHL’s annual coaches poll, Bouchard was named the best offensive defenseman in the Western conference. He was also voted to have the hardest shot and placed second in the Best Shot category.
Though he’s elite from an offensive perspective, Bouchard has a very strong all-around game. He already has NHL size and has shown this season that he isn’t afraid to use it to his advantage. More importantly, Bouchard is a smart player. Those who have been watching his OHL career have seen the development of his decision making - which is likely the biggest reason for the growth in his production this season.
Bouchard is a late-1999 born player, so he has already played three seasons of junior hockey. That could account for some of his dominance this season, but like Conor Timmins last year, his high-end play should not be diminished because of his age. Bouchard is an incredible talent and could be closer to the NHL than some others in this draft class.
In 67 games with London, Bouchard led all CHL defenders with 87 points - outscoring top prospects like Kale Clague, Conor Timmins, Cal Foote and Juuso Valimaki. What makes his numbers even more impressive is the fact that, while he is an elite powerplay quarterback, Bouchard also led OHL defenders with 45 5v5 points.
Not only did Evan Bouchard lead all draft eligible defensemen in production this season, he led all CHL defenders - regardless of age - in points per game played.
What the scouts say
“His elite-level passing enables him to transition quickly. The right-shot defenseman can quarterback a power play and has a good one-timer.” - Mike Morreale, NHL
” Bouchard has excellent sense and feel for the game, complimented by a poise that makes you think his heart rate is 40 beats per minute. A great passer, Bouchard has the ability to push the level of his game higher when required and makes the tough plays look easy.” - Craig Button, TSN
“Big-bodied offensive defenseman with excellent passing skills who can orchestrate a power play as good as any blueliner from any of the last several NHL drafts. Bouchard immediately became the leader of not just London’s defense corps, but of the entire team after the Knights traded away most of their bigger names at the OHL’s trade deadline. His overall game has steadily developed to the point where he’s been logging around 30 minutes a night while matching up against top lines. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a smoother North American puck distributor, especially one that makes difficult plays look routine. His shot is very hard, and it’s most effective when he keeps it low enough that goalies plunk the rebounds right into the low slot.” - Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
Projecting His Future
Evan Bouchard has two things working for him that will get him drafted higher than some suspect - he’s a right-handed shot and he’s the size most NHL GMs like to see from a defender. The numbers are there to justify selecting him anywhere outside of the top-3. As a result, it’s likely that Bouchard will get drafted higher than more skilled defensemen like Quinn Hughes and Ty Smith.
Where will he be drafted: He’s going to end up in the 5-10 range, likely a lot closer to 5.