Evan Bouchard becoming a modern day Paul Coffey for Edmonton Oilers

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Having high-end skill is nothing. Lots of players have high-end skill.

Same goes for having a great shot.

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What Evan Bouchard is doing right now is turning into a superstar before Edmonton’s very eyes, staking his claim in the same neighbourhood as Cale Makar, Adam Fox or Quinn Hughes.

Not only is the 24-year-old Oilers defenceman delivering in the playoffs, he’s planting his flag on some absolutely clutch situations, scoring the overtime winner in Game 2 against Vancouver, the last-second winner in Game 4 and putting his stamp on Game 7 with a pair of assists for 11 points in the series.

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Before that he scored the only goal in a 1-0 first-round win over the L.A. Kings and followed it up with a three-assist night to close out that series.

“No moment is too big for him,” defence partner Mattias Ekholm said after his winner in Game 4. “He’s playing his game and he doesn’t care what time of the game it is, what time of the year it is, he’s just playing his way.

“That’s what I love about him and that’s what’s going to make him have an unbelievable career in this league.”

He’s already there. Bouchard leads all defencemen in these playoffs with 20 points, making him the first defenceman in NHL history with 20 or more through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

And he almost did it last year. In 24 playoff games over the last two seasons he has 37 points. When a guy saves his best work for the toughest and most important time of the year, you know you’ve got something special.

“He raised to another level,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “He’s a pretty even keel guy, even on the ice, but it’s nice to see his intensity.

“It’s not just the way he shoots the puck. We all know that he can hammer it and pick corners, but his intensity around our net, some of the battles he got into, it’s a great sign. He’s maturing and really figuring out he’s a bit of an animal.”

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From a player who started out as a defensive liability who was too casual in his own end, Bouchard has evolved into a legitimate star. If Connor McDavid is this team’s Wayne Gretzky and Leon Draisaitil is its Messier, then meet the new Paul Coffey.

“Come playoff time you have to step up,” shrugged Bouchard, who’s as laid back and economical in his interviews as he in on the ice.

“The team played very well and with team success you get individual success.”

Make no mistake, Edmonton is pretty much the best place in the entire world for an offensively-gifted first-pairing defenceman to flourish. Paul Coffey is your coach. Ekholm is your partner and the other four guys on your power play are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman.

“Having a coach like Paul definitely helps, he wants you to make plays which is great for myself and everyone else,” said Bouchard. “And having Ekholm as a partner gives you confidence to do that much more. He’s smart with the puck, strong defensively, strong offensively, can make the first pass. He kind of does it all. So to have a partner like that definitely helps.”

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We get that. But what we’re seeing from Bouchard at the pressure-packed time of year is on a different level than almost every other defenceman in the NHL.

“Unbelievable series, unbelievable player who’s just getting better and better as he goes,” said McDavid. “He’s so smart, one of the smartest hockey players I’ve ever played with. Just constantly learning on the go and we’re starting to see him come into his own. Everyone knew what he could do offensively but defensively he defends using his brain and he’s getting really good at that.”

There he was, a player famous for his offence, out there on the ice in the final minute of a 3-2 game, trusted to help save the night in a building that was absolutely shaking in anticipation of one of the most stunning Game 7 comebacks of all time.

Head Coach Kris Knoblauch knew long before he came to Edmonton that while Bouchard might not always look it, he’s a killer.

“We had quite a rivalry with the London Knights,” said the former Erie Otters coach. “You see this tall, lanky defenceman and I thought, ‘All right, let’s take advantage of him. He looks a little sleepy out there, maybe a little lost. All right, we’re going to take advantage of him.’

“Well, we never did. And the things I saw in the Junior level at 16 years old, he’s doing it at the NHL.”

And the turnovers? Like Leon Draisaitl in the playoffs, the balance between those turnovers and what he contributes on the other end of the scale is so lopsided it’s barely worth mentioning.

“He has the puck an awful lot so he doesn’t need to defend that much,” grinned Draisaitl. “He’s a great hockey player.”

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