Ticking time bomb: Edmonton Oilers have a big gun but need to use it better

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The Bouch Bomb.

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We know it. We love it. We glory in the power and lethality of its execution.

It’s the kind of obvious attacking weapon, now possessed by young Edmonton d-man Evan Bouchard, that the Oilers have lacked since the days Sheldon Souray regularly teed up the puck in 2008-09 and unleashed hellish shot after shot from the Edmonton blueline, scoring 23 goals that season.

This past season, Bouchard’s first full season in the NHL, he led all Edmonton d-men, firing in 12 goals, many of them on delicious and devastating Bouch Bombs.

But the Bouch Bomb isn’t just a great weapon, it’s a ticking time bomb.

It’s something set to go off far more often in coming seasons, but only if Bouchard and his Edmonton teammates can find a way to make better use of this particular spectacular skill.

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What do I mean by this?

Mainly one thing: that as dangerous as the Bouch Bomb is as a shot itself, it’s even more dangerous in that it creates Grade A shots for others.

1. Bouchard’s shots just don’t score goals. They break down defenses. They cause dangerous tips and nasty rebounds. They spread panic in opposing ranks.

For those of you who love numbers (and I know that’s only a fraction of you), we can quantify this. We do video review of all Grade A shots on net at the Cult of Hockey. Those shots go in about 25 per cent of the time on average.

Last year, Bouchard had 34 Grade A shots on net himself, second only to Darnell Nurse’s 43.

But it wasn’t just those shots that got through that caused so much trouble for opposing teams. Bouchard was able to bomb, fire, lob and sneak all kinds of shots on net, so much so that 39 of his outside shots from him led to Grade A shots for his teammates, sometimes on redirections, most often on rebounds.

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He was far ahead of any other Oilers d-man in this category, with Tyson Barrie next at 23 outside shots leading to Grade A shots. If Bouchard can up his shot volume, he’ll get more goals himself, but his teammates will also feast on his rebounds from him.

2. To take full advantage of this unique skill, Bouchard has got to get off more shots on net. He ranked 8th in the NHL this year with 205 shots, but he was not close to league leader Roman Josi, who had 281. Next best was Cale Makar with 240 shots. Bouchard (and his teammates) should aim for him to lead the league for shots for a d-man next season. Why not go big when you’re dealing with such a dangerous attacking weapon?

3. One key thing — if you want Bouchard to shoot a lot, do not pair him with Darnell Nurse, who also loves to shoot from the point. Nurse rarely looked to pass off to Bouchard when they were teamed up together, which makes some sense, as Nurse has a pretty decent shot himself. But he doesn’t have Bouchard’s shot. When Bouchard is on the ice and the Oil are cycling the puck in the o-zone, the team should be looking to set him up at the point, not set up Nurse or anyone else at the other point. Nurse should lead his own defensive pairing, with Bouchard teamed with a player like Duncan Keith, who did a great job last year setting up Bouchard for shots.

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4. All due respect to Tyson Barrie, but Bouchard needs to be on the Top Edmonton power play next year. This past season, Barrie had 36 power play shots, Bouchard 25, with NHL leader Josi at 63 and Makar at 56. This coming year, Bouchard should aim to fire 60 or 70 power play shots on net.

Why have this focus? As the season went on, we saw penalty kill units take away the cross-seam one-timer that the Oil feasted on in the first third of the season. They blocked off the middle of the ice and harassed the Oil before they could gain full possession and set up.

Edmonton needs more weapons than just Leon Draisaitl’s one-timer and Connor McDavid’s creative brilliance to get back its power play mojo.

Why not have two one-timer aces, Draisaitl on the left dot and Bouchard on the right dot, maybe with Barrie, Darnell Nurse or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins setting them up from the point?

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With both Bouchard and Draisaitl throwing down lightning bolts from the dots teams will be in a panic about who to cover. The ferocious harpoons from both players will often score, but even if they miss, the rebounds will often be converted into goals.

For Edmonton to thrive on the power play, it needs all kinds of deadly options, not just one or two, and adding in the Bouch Bomb, and its related rebounds, is just the unwelcome and hideous surprise Edmonton should unleash on opponents in 2022- 2. 3.

5. Bouchard was not shy about taking shots this past season. His shots from him per 60 minute rate for d-men was third overall at even strength and fourth overall for power play d-men. He is making much of his opportunities to shoot and his teammates are already looking for him. To lead the league, he’ll need more ice time and even more of a focus on getting him the puck in shooting position. That should be the goal.

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PS Bakersfield named interim coach Colin Chaulk as head coach. I know little of Chaulk but he was a hire from Keith Gretzky and Jay Woodcroft, a stamp of approval if I ever saw one.

Staples on politics

Steady as she goes, up and up — that’s what Travis Toews is selling but is it too boring?

Minister of Finance Travis Toews laughs as he prepares to deliver the 2021 Alberta Provincial budget at the Alberta Legislature, in Edmonton Thursday Feb. 25, 2021.
Minister of Finance Travis Toews laughs as he prepares to deliver the 2021 Alberta Provincial budget at the Alberta Legislature, in Edmonton Thursday Feb. 25, 2021. PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM /post media

At the Cult

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LEAVINS: Oilers’ mission is ‘get good people, keep good people’ — 9 Things

McCURDY: What does the future hold for Kailer Yamamoto in Edmonton

STAPLES: Might this weird Oiler-for-Oiler trade actually be possible?

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