Skip to main content

Bouchard needs playoff 'urgency' as he builds chemistry with Nurse: Oilers coach

Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard skates in front of goalie Stuart Skinner. (Source: Edmonton Oilers) Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard skates in front of goalie Stuart Skinner. (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

The regular season hasn't even started yet, but the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers is already challenging one of his top defencemen to play like it's the postseason.

Jay Woodcroft says the playoffs are when Evan Bouchard – now 23 years old, with a fresh $3.9 million a year contract – is at his best. It's a level the coach wants to see every game.

"That type of urgency in all three zones was apparent to me and his good play was apparent in all three zones. And that's what we expect out of him as he continues to take a bigger slice of the pie here," Woodcroft told reporters Wednesday.

"We expect that urgency right from Game 1, through a long playoff run, and that's incumbent on him to continue to work at his game to make sure he's prepared, so that he does have that effect."

Based on basic stats, Woodcroft is right that his young defenceman has elevated his game in elimination series.

Bouchard has exploded for 26 points in 28 career playoff games. He has 89 points in 184 regular-season games.

Woodcroft has paired Bouchard with Darnell Nurse in the preseason and in training camp.

That may be because Mattias Ekholm, Bouchard's most recent partner, has been injured, but Woodcroft said he likes the pairing and suggests Bouchard will play more this year.

"Darnell and Bouch are working on finding some chemistry here during the preseason. We've played them a good amount together so they're starting to have a comfort level and we like what we see so far," the coach said.

Earlier in training camp, Bouchard said he was up to the challenge of being on the ice more. He's averaged about 18 minutes a game in his career. Nurse often plays more than 23 a night.

"I'm sure every defenceman wants to play more minutes," Bouchard said, adding he's improved his cardio and skating so he can take on more work and defend against top opponents.

"A lot of it comes down to skating, really, closing things quicker. The more you can close things quicker, the less time it gives them. Anticipation is obviously a big thing."

Nurse spent most of last season with Cody Ceci on his right side and said it's been "fun" to play with Bouchard.

"He can probably handle [more ice time]. He's in great shape. He's smart, he's a very cerebral player out there," he told reporters last week.

"He got drafted high and he's got a lot of trust in our group and our room and our team. That's because he's capable of a lot."

The Oilers play the Calgary Flames at 7 p.m. MT Wednesday in Edmonton. Their regular season starts next Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks. Top Stories

Stay Connected