The Ottawa Senators' amateur scouting group, led by Trent Mann, has been lauded for its work in filling the cupboard for years now. It would be easy to say it's been the shining light of the rebuild.
We aren’t simply talking about high first round picks like Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle and Jake Sanderson, where you expect a decent return.
Shane Pinto (2nd round), Drake Batherson (4th round) and Mark Kastelic (5th round) are all playing big roles in the rebuild now. Jacob Bernard-Docker (1st round), Lassi Thomson (1st round), Mads Sogaard (2nd round), Egor Sokolov (2nd round), Roby Jarventie (2nd round) and Angus Crookshank (5th round) are all on the development path to the parent club. Only Jarventie and Crookshank from that list have yet to play in an NHL game.
With that being said, one pick that has come under the microscope quite a bit has been their 10th overall pick from 2021, Tyler Boucher.
Boucher is currently toiling with the hometown Ottawa 67’s and has been since he opted to sign his entry level contract and leave Boston University on December 28, 2021.
There has been serious concern in the Twittersphere since the Senators made that selection, as Boucher has struggled to find his rhythm. The fear is that the Senators may have whiffed on this one. Of course, like everyone in the 2021 draft class, Boucher was not able to be heavily scouted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His draft year, due to COVID-19 and injury, consisted of 5 games played in the USHL. The year prior, he played only 24 games thanks also to COVID-19. It’s safe to say this pick was a projection by Mann and his staff.
If you've seen the movie, Moneyball, with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, you would have heard the term Five Tool Player. This is how the lead character, A's GM Billy Beane, was projected by scouts in his draft year to Major League Baseball. He was projected to be X and ended up falling short of expectations.
Doing a little research into how NHL scouts project prospects, these are the “Tools” by which players are rated and projected.
1. Skating (Speed/Agility/Transition)
2. Puck Control
4. Shot Quality (Power/Accuracy)
5. Positioning (Offensive and Defensive play)
6. Hockey IQ
You can only glean so much from Twitter feed highlights and watching the Ottawa 67’s on Rogers TV. I had to see it for myself. So I watched the kid play live and here’s how I rate him, based on these tools on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest.
This is a north/south player who was noticeable in a group of his peers when going north and south. On a number of occasions, he overtook players on the forecheck and backcheck and this was good to see.
Like most north/south players, when he tries to go east/west, his game goes south. I am not trying to mock or ridicule him by saying that. There are a lot of north/south players in the NHL who fashion good careers. The smart ones know to play in their lane.
The same can be said of his agility. I wouldn’t describe him as explosive
off the mark, but he is above average in his peer group, and I noticed this in the Senators’ pre-season games as well.
Rating = 4/5
The speed I mentioned before was noticeably less when the puck was on his stick. I know all players are faster without the puck than with it. This was noticeable.
He can handle the puck in open spaces. However, in tight spaces, I saw the opposite.
The more quickly he distributed the puck, the more effective he was, and, to his credit, he didn’t try to do too much with the puck.
The Senators didn’t draft someone who is going to juke players with his puck skills.
Rating = 2/5
Boucher saw his fair share of power play time, and this is where I saw his ability to distribute the puck the most. He is a shoot first player. However, he can get the puck to his teammates with the idea of getting it back.
The game is such that there isn’t a lot of linear passing like the days of the Soviets and their weaving through the neutral zone. Most of the passes I saw involved playing the puck off the boards to players and shorter passes that you would expect most OHL players to be able to make.
As I indicated, he is a shoot first player whose passing skills are competent for the level he plays at. I don’t expect him to be a Joe Thornton type playmaker and his Hockey DB stats seem to support that conclusion. He has seven goals and three assists in 9 games this season and most seasons he scores at least as many as he assists on and in most cases more.
Rating = 3/5
SHOT QUALITY (POWER/ACCURACY)
This was something of a pleasant surprise to me. I had seen Boucher score in Twitter highlights. However, his one-timer on two occasions was lethal from the left wall for goals and the release was quick which gave the goaltender no time to react.
He knew how to get himself into position on the power play and his teammates knew how to get it to him. Granted, two of his seven goals this season are empty netters. However, I saw enough to know there is something that can be projected into a pro game.
He will always need someone to feed him. He won’t go coast to coast like butter and toast to set himself up for the big release. That said, he clearly knows what to do with it when he gets it.
Rating = 4/5
POSITIONING (OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE PLAY)
Granted it was a small sample size. However, I saw some evidence of understanding his responsibilities in all three zones and his ice time reflected that.
He was solid along the wall in his own end and was able to make the simple and safe plays. He seems to know what he is and isn’t trying to be something he isn’t.
He takes and gives checks to make plays and seems to be benefitting from working with a coach like Dave Cameron who brings the NHL experience that has the whole team playing at a different level.
His forecheck is fierce and it is done with a purpose. He likes giving more than receiving and never misses a chance to lay the body without getting himself out of position.
Rating = 4/5
This is the hardest tool to measure as it is less tangible. Players like Gretzky, Crosby, Matthews and McDavid are known for the ability to process the play at high speeds. Hence their decision making seems better than others as they are ahead of everyone in how they anticipate their next move.
Boucher is definitely not like that. He doesn’t stand out either way for his exceptional or lack of Hockey IQ. What he did that impressed me wasn’t a function of outsmarting the other team, but rather using his physical tools effectively.
He is able to play within a system and be effective and most players in the league need to be able to do that. He seems to understand his role in the system and what is expected of him.
There was some evidence of undisciplined play which led to a couple of unwanted penalties. Then I remembered he was only 19 and trying to show his teammates that he would stick up for them.
I don’t know how much of what I saw had to do with the fact that his team was winning and, for the most part, winning easily. Time will tell.
Rating = 3/5
Overall, I liked what I saw. I have been hearing words like “Bust” and “Flop” for a while now and people have been merciless in describing this kid and what he brings.
Here’s my take.
I think a mistake was made when he was drafted, and he chose to go to Boston University to pursue his scholarship. When I learned that the 67’s had his CHL rights, I immediately thought he should come here and play for Dave Cameron where he can play 60-70 games against his own peer group. I imagine he wasn’t willing to forego a free education without a contract. I guess I don’t blame him for that.
He went to BU and struggled competing for ice time with and playing against players who were as many as 5 years older than him. Having played only 5 games in the previous season, I would imagine he went to the Terriers rather undercooked. I am guessing Pierre Dorion waived an Entry Level Contract under his nose and coaxed him to go where the ice time and development was and he finished the season with the 67’s putting up some decent numbers.
This summer he failed to crack the USA World Junior team for August’s tournament and, again, the alarm bells went off. Cracking that lineup is not an easy thing to do and, to be honest, I don’t know that Tyler Boucher’s game is tailored for international success.
None of the evaluation tools listed above speaks to Brian Burke’s truculence. Boucher has plenty of that. He is very game to stick his nose in the traffic and never misses a chance to finish his checks. Even in the preseason playing against older men, it was clear to me that this kid understands his path to the NHL. He has a thick frame for a 19-year-old and he is able to impose himself on his peer group. The International game doesn’t reward truculence the way the NHL game does.
Perhaps Boucher will get a crack at the U20 tournament again over the XMAS break. I don’t think that is a make-or-break outcome for this player. It would be a great experience and development for him. However, he seems to have taken the summer’s slight personally and brought his game to a different level. He has plenty of opportunity to help his team go on a long playoff run.
Everyone likes projections and parallels to current players. In terms of the Senators, I would say he is the right wing version of Alex Formenton. I know that name comes with some trepidation. However, if we look at it strictly from a hockey perspective, there are some striking similarities. He isn’t quite as fast as Formenton but he has better finish based on what I have seen. Both are north/south players who love to forecheck aggressively and have the frames that will allow them to do that on a nightly basis.
Formenton was seen as a steal in the 2nd round of his draft year.
If he had gone 10th overall, people might view the selection differently. That’s the real concern amongst the fan base. People have already noted that Cole Sillinger, who went 11th overall in 2021, is already contributing in the NHL. Fair enough. Sillinger is a center. Who do you think he might displace in the Senators lineup? I know the adage is to pick the best available player. The Senators appear to have gone off the board to get a piece of the puzzle that will play deeper in the lineup but still play a critical role.
It will take some time to get Boucher to the NHL. He will do at least one tour of duty in Belleville. However, I am a believer this kid will play for the Senators down the road. He could develop into a Tom Wilson type of player with some more discipline who can contribute offensively while keeping the other team honest. I see him being more offensively effective than a Chris Neil with similar types of attributes.
For a 10th overall pick, would that be so bad? If I had no idea who that kid was and you told me the 10th overall pick in the 2021 draft was playing in those games, would I have picked out Boucher? No, I wouldn’t have. However, I surely would have asked you who had Boucher’s rights and what round he went in.
There is something there and given the lack of development this kid has had since being drafted and even leading up to being drafted, I’m willing to play the waiting game.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey