Evan Bouchard steps into prime Edmonton Oilers' role and thrives
LAS VEGAS — Evan Bouchard has seamlessly taken over orchestrating the NHL's most lethal power play.
The Oilers dealing defenceman Tyson Barrie to the Nashville Predators a few days before the league's March 3 trade deadline signalled Bouchard's apprenticeship was over.
Entering Sunday's games, the 23-year-old from Oakville, Ont., led all NHL players in power-play points with three goals and nine assists over eight games.
So of Edmonton's league-leading 14 power-play goals in the post-season, Bouchard's had a hand in all but two.
"The power play is clicking," Bouchard said. "I think that's helping me grow in confidence and plays with the puck.
"We're getting our chances. We're putting them in."
Bouchard scored a power-play goal and assisted on two others in Edmonton's 5-1 win Saturday over the host Vegas Golden Knights to even their second-round series at a win apiece.
"When you can make them pay for taking penalties, it's always an advantage," he said following the game.
Game 3 is Monday and Game 4 is Wednesday in Edmonton.
The best-of-seven series between the top two finishers in the Pacific Division flips back to Las Vegas for Friday's Game 5. If required, Game 6 is Sunday in Edmonton and a Game 7 would be May 16 in Las Vegas.
It helps that Bouchard has two of the best options in the world when the Oilers have a man advantage.
Leon Draisaitl owns an NHL-topping six power-play goals this post-season with Oilers captain Connor McDavid chipping in another three.
But Bouchard has been a difference maker in his own right.
He took a couple strides in from the blue-line and scored with a slapshot blast to make it 2-0 for the Oilers early in Game 2's first period.
Draisaitl also scored on the power play just over two minutes into the game.
When Edmonton trailed 3-0 after the first period of Game 4 in the first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, it was Bouchard's power-play goal early in the second that kickstarted a comeback in a 5-4 overtime win to even that series.
"Brings another look," Draisaitl said of Bouchard's contributions.
"Tyse was amazing at it. He was really good back there and we loved having him, but Bouch is maybe a bit more of a shooter. He has an absolute bomb."
The Oilers selected the six-foot-three 194-pound defender 10th overall in the 2018 Draft from the OHL's London Knights.
Bouchard quarterbacked Edmonton's second power-play unit in 2021-22, which was his first season as a full-time NHLer.
The Oilers' power play was converting at a clip of over 30 per cent when Barrie was traded.
Bouchard's had big shoes to fill, but at 56 per cent in the playoffs, Edmonton's power play seems in good hands.
"Because he's had time last year understudying, it's not all brand new to him," Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said.
"He has an understanding of how it flows. He does have a big shot, but he brings a puck up the ice well, and the more experience he gets on it, the better he will be and he's been pretty good."
Bouchard's three-pointer in Game 2 was his third straight multi-point game and fifth overall in these playoffs.
He ranks fourth all-time among Oilers defencemen in playoff multi-point games in a single season behind Paul Coffey (nine in 1986 and six in 1984), Charlie Huddy (seven in 1985) and Chris Pronger (seven in 2006).
The Golden Knights were the NHL's least penalized team in the regular season.
Giving the Oilers six power-play chances in Game 2 was uncharacteristic and ultimately the Knights' undoing.
"What the penalties were it doesn't matter," Vegas head coach Bruce Cassidy said.
"They scored on them and we've got to find a way to limit those and do a better job killing them, which is not an easy task. We know that but we'll just have to do a better job.
"Then on the other side, we've got to convert our power play."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press