Lance Bouma’s rise from fourth liner to local cult hero (who is still a fourth liner)

Take yourself back to June 20, 2008. It’s the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, and the Flames have just selected a nearly-point per game centre by the name of Greg Nemisz.

Flash forward to present day, and Nemisz is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ farm system, toiling away at a .667 point per game pace. So… not great.

Instead, go back to June 21, 2008. It’s the second round, and the Flames have selected a WHLer who’s over a point per game by the name of Mitch Wahl. He’s looking pretty decent, too, until he gets concussed. He’s a point per game guy now, which is good. He’s also in the ECHL, which is less impressive.

Let’s try this again.

It’s the third round. The Boston Bruins have just selected a goalie named Michael Hutchinson. Up next are the Flames, and while they don’t know it, they’re about to make their first successful pick of the draft. He’s a not-even .500 point per game player with nearly 100 penalty minutes by the name of Lance Bouma.

Flash forward to today, and Lance Bouma, for the first time in pretty much ever, has nearly as many points as he does penalty minutes. Considering how he was never a sure bet to make the NHL – not to mention the fact that a sprained ACL and MCL lost him an entire season before he did make it – what’s he’s done this season has been pretty unexpected.

Top six forward Lance Bouma

The 6’1, 210 lb. forward is one of the heavier guys on the Flames’ roster. Combine that with a grand total of six goals and 19 points over 121 NHL games before this season, and the scouting report on Bouma was pretty clear: he’s a grinder who might just be able to chip in on occasion, but can’t exactly be relied upon.

Well, Bouma’s certainly lived up to his physical reputation. He currently leads the Flames – and is seventh overall in the NHL – with 196 hits this season. He leads all Flames forwards with 48 blocked shots. He’s even had two fights this season, behind only the most truculent of players on the team: Deryk Engelland and Brandon Bollig.

Bouma isn’t either one of those guys, though, because Bouma is currently playing in a top six role. He was promoted once Curtis Glencross went down with injury, and has held on to his promotion since. Ever since the All-Star Break, Bouma can be found spending most of his time with Mikael Backlund and David Jones. He’s one-third of the Flames’ second/shutdown line.

And his numbers have jumped up, too. Bouma is setting new career highs, with 12 goals this season (the most he’s ever scored in one year was 14 with the Vancouver Giants – and he could pass that WHL mark in the NHL) and 13 assists to go along with them. In fact, he has more points (25) than Jones (23) and Backlund (16), albeit in more games played.

So has Bouma turned the corner? He was never a major scorer in junior. Is he just a late bloomer?

The power of Mikael Backlund

Not really, no. Bouma’s success can be tied directly to Backlund. Since the very beginning of his NHL career, actually:

That’s Bouma’s first ever NHL point, scored on Feb. 7, 2011: a time when Backlund was still highly under-appreciated and spending most of his time on the fourth line.

Before Bouma’s promotion, he had all of six goals and 13 points over 41 games. Since Glencross’ injury, he has six goals and 12 points over 16 games. One of these rates is more reasonable than the other, especially when you take his career-high shooting percentage of 18.2% into account. (In the 2013-14 season, he had five goals off a shooting percentage of 6.1%. He’s more likely to repeat that performance than this year’s.)

Just because Backlund made it off the fourth line does not mean Bouma was destined to follow him. Rather, he’s in a position of highly favourable circumstance, and it’s pretty much all Backlund’s doing.

I promise I’m not going to bombard you with WOWY numbers every time I write a piece… but the visual here really helps drive home how much Backlund is carrying Bouma. 

1415BoumaBacklundWOWY

Bouma’s possession stats are absolutely horrendous when he’s away from Backlund. On the flip side, Backlund’s able to make a guy who should, in ideal circumstances, be playing on the fourth line into a positive possession player, which is pretty amazing.

Perfect fourth liner Lance Bouma

For all his sudden hot streak, Bouma is not actually a near-point per game player. He’s absolutely killing it off a combination of luck and a really helpful centre right now, and while it’s insanely entertaining to watch, he hasn’t suddenly become a top six guy.

Via @MimicoHero’s tableau visuals, over at Own the Puck, Bouma is a fourth liner:

BoumaHEROchart

A fourth liner who’s capable of chipping in on the scoring, and won’t leave you hurting if you have to bump him up a line or two in emergency situation (such as your biggest trading chip who happens to play the same position going down after just one period of play). 

The Flames are not in an emergency situation requiring Bouma to be played so frequently now, but this is the world we’re currently living in. And it’s fun, if slightly impractical.

Fact is, you need quality depth players to truly get anywhere, and a lot of teams could do worse than to have Lance Bouma in the lineup. Just don’t necessarily expect him to put up such high numbers throughout the rest of his career. Yeah, he’s only 24 and still has plenty of time to grow as a player, but he’s also currently reaping the rewards of both the highest shooting percentage on the team and one of the team’s greatest possession drivers.

It’s simply not sustainable.

Pretty awesome in the meantime, though.

    • Greg

      What a 2004 he had. Not many fancy stats available back then but his shooting % was 13 %!! He sure did score some nice goals (LA overtime + San Jose series + Game 3 SCF) but he also unless on a 2 on 1 had almost no chance of scoring unless he was in close. Good times

  • Burnward

    Bouma could be a 35 point player pretty consistently, no?

    Sometimes this is just how it goes for those guys, I think. Hot for a while, cold for more.

    Ride him while he’s cooking though!

    • SmellOfVictory

      He could be a 35 point player consistently getting top 6 minutes with excellent linemates, maybe. But in the role he’s actually good at, in the bottom six? He’s a guy who will produce in the mid-high teens.

  • JumpJet

    I don’t think there’s a guy who more deserves a hot scoring streak than Bouma. If he can pitch in 10 goals and 20 odd points over the next five or six years, while still doing all the “truculent” things he does, he’ll be an extremely valuable player.

  • Ari, because you’re new here and we’re pals, I’ll let this slide, but you need to know a Flames Nation fact:

    We are not allowed to talk about how Backlund is THE GREATEST until after he signs an extension. Until then, he is garbage, and Bouma is doing this all himself

    • amaninvan

      I agree with BOL. I dont care how clearly those statistics show the undeniable fact that Micheal Backlund is obviously one of the most valuable players on this team. He certainly shouldn’t be given any credit for helping take a 4th line plugger and morphing him into a second line scorer. He isn’t the type of player who every team in the league is looking for: a young 2 way player with consistent puck possession skills who plays against the top teams in a shutdown role, and can chip in offensively while making everyone on the ice around him better. I suppose he is a good enough player for The Flames to sign a long extension and extinguish these ridiculous suggestions we trade him away, but not for big money. He just isn’t worth it

      As for Lance, lock this player up and slap the Glencross A on his chest. The guy optimizes everything this team stands for: hard work, dedication, sacrifice and a total team commitment. He is playing the best hockey of his career and has never looked so confident, as seen the other night where he cuts in off the wing while holding his check off with one hand, only to place a perfectly placed shot top corner. A perfect power move for someone becoming a prototypical power forward. Just awesome.

    • Ari Yanover

      Oh no. I’m sorry and dearly hope I can be forgiven. I was also going to reply to some other comments saying that I think Mikael Backlund should be given Glencross’ “A”, but considering how he is actually Bad, I realize this is not the case and never will be, until he is locked up long-term. I’ll be sure to be better in the future.

      @OKG – Bouma’s CF% without Bollig is 44.6%, which still isn’t great. It’s a step up from the 37.8% they unfortunately have had to share, but not!Backlund is still the guy pushing Bouma’s numbers into respectable territory (and he’s literally the only one doing it, too).

      Oh and once again – thank you everyone for the continued warm welcomes!! Y’all are great.

  • Come on now, have you considered the flip side to that? That Bouma spent much of his season with Bollig et al?

    How about we let Bouma do what he’s doing before declaring he’s a 4th liner getting lucky?

    I’m not declaring Bouma a 2nd liner, 3rd liner, 4th liner until I see a bigger sample size of him on those higher lines. Don’t forget Backlund will be pushed down to 3rd line with the advent of Bennett, so Bouma has a chance to stay with Backlund for a long time even as our top 6 gets more skilled.

    It’s not a knock on Bouma that he gets to play with Backlund, just like it’s not a knock on a guy like Tomas Tatar that he gets to play with Pavel Datsyuk. Lines are about balance, and Bouma has been more effective with Backlund than other players including Jones and Glencross.

    So how about we let these guys just do what they’re doing and let the sample sizes even themselves out in either-which way before we jump to conclusions?

  • BurningSensation

    I always hoped it would be Michael Ferland who would make the leap on to the Rick Tocchet path (4th line grinder becomes 3rd line checker becomes 2nd line setup man with toughness becomes 1st unit power forward), but if it is Bouma, so be it!

    (It will still be Michael Ferland).

  • BurningSensation

    There is no longer a sense of breaking information when someone says stick an A on booms jersey. That has been said for 6 months here. It’ll happen

  • The Last Big Bear

    When there are moments of elation in local sports it is always a time to reflect with a selection of beverages. Indeed we respect our sporting icons. Bravo Mr. Lance Brauma. Bravo.