Projected to go late in the first round at the start of his draft year, London Knights captain Evan Bouchard finds himself ranked as a top-five defenceman at season’s close.
He recorded 20 more points in his first year of draft eligibility than Ryan Merkley, who was the next highest scoring draft-eligible defenceman in 2017-18. Bouchard’s 87 points also make him the first defenceman to break 80 points in his draft year since Ryan Ellis in 2008-09.
The rebuilding Knights had a difficult start to the season and were swept in the first round of the OHL playoffs, but Bouchard is nominated for OHL Defenceman of the Year, and is the Knights’ nominee for the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy as Most Outstanding Player of the Year. In a draft full of remarkable defencemen, Evan Bouchard is right there at the top.
Birthplace: Oakville, ON, Canada
Weight: 193 lbs
Team: London Knights (OHL)
Evan Bouchard’s production nearly doubled from 2016-17 to this most recent season, where he led all CHL defencemen in total points as well as points per game (1.3). Even more impressive: he is second behind forward Oliver Wahlstrom in points for the entire draft class. Obviously that’s including players across many different leagues (besides the three Canadian major junior leagues, there are also European, NCAA, and USHL guys at the top of the draft), but as a defenceman, having the second-most points among his peers is pretty incredible. And that’s without being a liability in his own end, which many people like to think is the hallmark of an offensively gifted defenceman.
That’s not to say that Bouchard doesn’t have work to do on the defensive side of the puck. He definitely does. He’s even said about himself that his two main weaknesses are his skating and his play in the defensive zone. However, an 18-year-old defenceman doesn’t get to be a top prospect and captain of his junior team by only being good at scoring goals.
London assistant coach Rick Steadman responded to the concerns about Bouchard’s agility by saying that hs charge is actually an underrated skater. His callout to demonstrate this point was that Bouchard “can read how fast other guys are coming down on him, [and he] uses his body to create separation and spin away.” Simply put, Evan Bouchard might not be the fastest guy on the ice, but he is capable of adjusting his game to match up more favourably against faster skaters, allowing him to take control of the game.
Bouchard has described himself as a defenceman who “makes the right pass, makes the right play,” which is also something that has been noted by scouts. He has also said that he “likes to jump in the play [and] make something happen,” and that much is obvious from watching even a few of his shifts. His ability to get shots through from the point is part of what makes him dangerous on the power play, and he assists on just as many tip-ins as he scores goals himself.
Watching him play, it’s impossible not to notice Bouchard’s passing, and he’s even been described as one of the best passers available in this year’s draft. A strong two-way defenceman who can shoot the puck is always a significant asset to a team, but add in the ability to slow down the game to his pace and make a perfect pass? That kind of talent is hard to pass up.
In the offensive zone, he can pass from the blue line, from behind the net, or from the corners, and he’s likely to put it right on the tape of a teammate for a scoring chance. Bouchard also excels at starting the initial breakout with a stretch pass, and he’s just as strong joining the rush as the second or third man in and putting himself in perfect position to take a shot.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: #8
NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters): #4
Hockey Prospect: #15
ISS Hockey: #6
McKeen’s Hockey: #7
Central Scouting has him ranked over both Noah Dobson and Quinn Hughes: the other two North American defencemen projected to go in the top 10. In fact, on many lists, he is ranked higher than all defencemen save Rasmus Dahlin, the presumptive first overall selection. Most of the hype is undoubtedly due to his explosive offensive performance this season, but it is not entirely undeserved.
Fun facts: The Vancouver Canucks will be picking seventh, which is roughly where Bouchard is projected to go. In 2016, the Canucks took fellow London defenceman Olli Juolevi with the fifth pick. The Montreal Canadiens picked Victor Mete all the way down in the fourth round that same year. You can bet Bouchard won’t be falling to the second round, so unless the Habs decide to take him early or possibly trade for another top-10 pick, we won’t get to see him in a Canadiens sweater on June 22.
Regarding that third pick, it seems unlikely that Marc Bergevin will take a defenceman when several high-end forwards will be available, but you never really know what teams are thinking. If the Habs decide to go after a defenceman at number three, Bouchard will definitely be in the mix.