As the offseason’s major transactions have populated the NHL’s rosters, we’re at a point where we can begin to talk about players who might get a look in the early days of preseason. One of the most promising first-shot scoring prospects at camp will be former QMJHL forward Raphael Lavoie. He played at the tail end of the 2020-21 season in Bakersfield, and we got a look at his talent and what makes him unique. How close is he?
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here’s the latest!
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- What role will he play in Bakersfield? Scoring forward, he could play either wing or center. I saw him at left wing with Seth Griffith and Adam Cracknell early, and he ran with Cooper Marody and Tyler Benson at the end of the season. Either way, he’ll be a feature player, on the top two lines with power-play time.
- He didn’t score much. Well, he didn’t post any offense for the first two games, then went 4-3-7 in the next six games, and ended 1-2-3 in 11 games, then delivered again in the playoffs. There’s no time on ice so it’s safe to say there was a range of deployment in the 19 games.
- Did he shoot the puck much? Not during the regular season (44 shots in 19 games), but in the playoffs he scored 1-3-4 in six games with 24 shots. He was with Cracknell and Griffith in the playoffs, it was a feature line.
- What will keep him out of the NHL? I’m no scout or coach, but he’ll need to keep his feet moving. Lavoie seems to land in the offensive zone and then reads the play, as opposed to pursuing the puck and keeping the play alive while using teammates. I don’t think that’s a fatal flaw, more likely a function of puck possession being easier for him in junior and his status as a pure scorer. He’ll also need to be consistent in his play, but you can say that about every prospect.
- He doesn’t like to get into the corners? He is a bigger man and can win battles, but he’ll have to change his style of play a little. I think he knew he could help his team most by setting up in a scoring position (Red Line said he was “deadly from the circles in”) and that worked in junior. The AHL is a higher league where everyone can skate and make plays. So, he’ll need to adjust, support the puck and look for those cherry chances on the power play.
- Is he good enough to eventually play on a line with McDavid or Draisaitl? Well, he’s a shooter so that aspect is attractive, but it’s too soon to project him to a skill line. We need to see him play the AHL at par, then dominate that level. He’s 6.04, 198 and can skate, so there are elements of a power forward here. The shot is golden, fantastic release on a heavy shot and he changes the release point late (via Scott Wheeler) to raise the degree of difficulty for the goalie, so that’s a feature of his game, but he has other dimensions.
- A year away? Yes, and the competition has increased.
- How so? Since Lavoie was drafted in the second round of the 2019 draft, Edmonton has added Dylan Holloway, Carter Savoie, Xavier Bourgault and Matvey Petrov as first-shot scorers in the system. Lavoie has a head start but there’s some urgency.
- Is he really a volume shooter? In his final two QMJHL seasons, he posted 3.32 shots per game (draft year) and then 5.64 shots per game in draft plus one. In his draft plus two season (this year), Lavoie delivered 3.96 shots per game in the Allsvenskan, 2.32 shots per game in the AHL regular season and 4.00 shots per game in the AHL playoffs. He is a volume shooter.
- What is the current depth chart at his position? I think his likely path is as a right wing, and my depth chart has him sixth (behind Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Josh Archibald, Zack Kassian, Cooper Marody) and that’s outside the NHL for this season but a strong start in Bakersfield could get him a look.
- Do you think he’ll make it? I think he has gaps in his game that will need to improve, but there’s too much talent to bet against with Lavoie. Wheeler’s article on the “shot-creation king” tells you how he’ll get to the NHL, and Lavoie’s improved play without the puck (when it comes) will convince the NHL coach to keep him there.
- Are the Oilers better at drafting than a decade or 20 years ago? People often criticize the Oilers scouts, but for me since 2015 the club has been both drafting well and developing players at a new level. The general managers are going to have to stop trading so many draft picks, but the ones Edmonton does use are hitting often. So, the recent second-round picks (Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, Lavoie) have an advantage over men like Colin McDonald, Jean-Francois Jacques, Roman Tesliuk and Geoff Paukovich from 20 years ago. The scouts are better, but Jay Woodcroft and his staff give the current group an enormous edge over the kids from 2003. In 2005-06, the Hamilton Bulldogs (Marc Pouliot, JF Jacques), Kyle Brodziak (Iowa Stars) and Milwaukee Admirals (Zack Stortini) were focused on their own players in development but had some loaners from Edmonton they stuck in as available. Edmonton’s top prospects were scattered across the AHL in a key moment of their development. So, yes, I think the Oilers are better at drafting, with development a key to current success.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, we hit the air on TSN1260 with so much sports going on we just can’t cover it all. Bruce McCurdy from the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal will talk about the Oilers defense in 2021-22, the Olympics and remembering Rusty Patenaude. At 11, Derek Taylor, the voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will give us a good look at the team as everyone gets ready for Week 1 CFL season 2021. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!