Mattias Ekholm has been a breath of fresh air for the Edmonton Oilers since his midseason arrival in 2022-23, and few have benefited more from the veteran rearguard’s presence than his running mate, Evan Bouchard.
“As you grow into the league – and now I’ve been in here for a decade or more – you get to learn stuff, you get to see stuff,” Ekholm said during a recent appearance on “Oilers NOW.” “It’s not the first Evan Bouchard I’ve seen throughout my years.
“Early on in my career, I might’ve just gone on about my business and tried to make myself be as good as I can, but I feel like I’ve reached a point in my career where I also can make an impact for other guys. … I just try to talk to them as much as I can.”
Prior to their first outing together on March 1, Bouchard was playing third-pair minutes, averaging 17:42 per contest while adding three goals and 21 points in 61 outings, which translates to a 0.34 point-per-game pace.
With Ekholm by his side for the rest of the season, Bouchard saw almost 21 minutes of ice time per contest – good for a new career high – against tougher competition and added five tallies and 19 points in 21 matchups (0.90 per game).
“He was almost trying to do too much,” Ekholm said. “He kind of got away from what makes him great. I should give him credit, I think he just realized that he has the offensive upside that not many other guys in this league has.
“When you do that, you have to play that way and understand that a mistake that goes the wrong way can’t affect your next shift. … It was really fun playing with him, I thought he did a great job, and I thought he had somewhat of a breakout party, at least when I was here.”
Edmonton heavily dictated play with the Ekholm-Bouchard pairing on the ice at five-on-five, outscoring opponents 27-8 while controlling 61.3% of the expected goals, per Natural Stat Trick.
The Oilers acquired Ekholm and a 2024 sixth-round pick from the Nashville Predators in late February in exchange for defenseman Tyson Barrie, a 2023 first-rounder, 2024 fourth-round selection, and forward prospect Reid Schaefer.
Barrie’s absence in Edmonton also led to a void on the Oilers’ top power-play unit, which Bouchard filled perfectly, especially in the playoffs. Despite playing in just 12 postseason games, Bouchard led all defensemen with 17 points, 15 of which came on the man advantage.
The 23-year-old signed a two-year, $7.8-million bridge deal as a restricted free agent in August. The Oilers selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Puck drops on Edmonton’s 2023-24 season on Oct. 11 against the Vancouver Canucks.
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