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.
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.
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.