A priority at the draft table for the Oilers in the Ken Holland era has been looking for high-quality forwards who can generate offence.
In 2020, the team used all of its selections on forwards, adding a two-way player in Dylan Holloway in the first round and then finding some potential hidden gems in the later rounds, Ty Tullio and Carter Savoie, who have serious upside. In 2021, the trend continued as the Oilers traded down to select Xavier Bourgault, a slippery and skilled forward who’s considered a weapon in the offensive zone.
I’ve talked about Tullio and Savoie and will soon get to Holloway and Bourgault. Today, we’ll focus on the team’s second-round pick from the 2019 draft, Raphael Lavoie, a forward who has been described as “the shot creation king.”
Position: Centre / Right Wing
Date of Birth: September 25, 2000
Drafted: 2019, No. 38 overall (EDM)
Weight: 193 lbs
Before getting into his path through juniors, the professional debut he made last season, and what we can expect in 2021-22, I wanted to talk about a fascinating article that Scott Wheeler wrote in The Athletic which focused on Lavoie’s elite ability to generate shots on goal.
Lavoie had 310 shots in 55 games in the QMJHL in 2019-20, which featured a two-game stretch one weekend where he put a whopping 17 shots on goal. He ranked third in all of the CHL with 5.64 shots per game.
Wheeler noted that the players who are in Lavoie’s echelon for getting pucks on net are generally small, highly-skilled crafty forwards, such as Nick Robertson and Cole Caufield. The difference with Lavoie is that he has this talent for driving offence while also boasting a 6’4″ frame, making him more likely to thrive in the professional ranks over a long period of time than the aforementioned two, who stand at 5’9″ and 5’7″ respectively.
Ultimately, I’m not entirely sold on what exactly Lavoie is going to be at the next level in terms of that line projection that every reader wants. There are some elements to his game that I didn’t break down here, because “The Gifted” is more about specific skills than the whole.
But no matter where he plays in an NHL lineup, or how many points he puts up, I can tell you that he’s going to be different – that there’s nobody quite like him. He brings something unique to a lineup, and something few teams have. And whether he’s on a second or a third line in the NHL someday doesn’t really matter to me, because I suspect the inputs will always be there, even if the outputs aren’t. Lavoie’s going to be the kind of player who creates more shots than his minutes, linemate and usage would dictate.
The thing about focusing on shot totals rather than goal totals is that it allows us to get a view of what under-the-radar things the player is doing well, such as successful transitions in the neutral zone, finding open ice and making plays in the offensive zone, and so on. Lavoie does that in spades, and he also has finishing ability, which is a great combination.
Being a late-September birthday, Lavoie was already in his third go-around of the QMJHL in his draft year. In 2018-19, he scored 30 goals and 63 points in 68 games with the Halifax Mooseheads, and then he improved slightly in 2019-20 to 32 goals and 73 points over 62 games. That season also featured a playoff run in which Lavoie buried 20 goals in 23 games.
Lavoie continued to impress in his post-draft year in 2019-20. He started off scoring 18 goals and 44 points in 30 games with Halifax and was then traded mid-season to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, where he would pop off for 20 goals and 38 points in 25 games. Unfortunately, as we know, Lavoie and Sagueneens didn’t have the chance to go on a playoff run due to COVID-19.
Next up, Lavoie turned pro with Vasby of Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second league while North American hockey was paused. Over 51 games, he led the team in both goals with 23 and points with 45. Only four players in the league scored more goals in 2020-21 than Lavoie did.
After Vasby’s season ended, Lavoie travelled overseas to make his North American pro debut with the Bakersfield Condors. Lavoie had a solid start to his AHL career, scoring five goals and 10 points over 19 games while also chipping in with four points in Bakersfield’s six playoff games.
It’s important to note that the 2021 AHL wasn’t the same AHL as usual, with many quality players waiting around on various NHL Taxi Squads. But, still, Lavoie’s results in Sweden’s second-best league and a watered-down AHL are very encouraging.
Holland’s Oilers take a conservative approach with prospects, so it’s inevitable we’ll see Lavoie spend the entirety of the 2021-22 season playing in a stronger AHL than he did last year. If all goes well, he could be pushing for an NHL gig by 2022-23.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.