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2023-24’s Biggest Storylines #10 – Breakout Forwards
5 months ago
With the season slowly creeping up on us, I’ve decided to start counting down the ten biggest storylines that I think will shape the Oilers 2023-24 campaign.
With basically the same roster returning, aside from a few minor tweaks and one somewhat sizeable addition to the forward group, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this team looks coming out of the gates this year.
This team should be very familiar with each other and that should allow them to get off to a hot start.
At the same time, just because it’s largely the same group coming back this year, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement on this roster
A few weeks back, I wrote about how Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele will need to step up and drive production in the bottom six, but they aren’t the only ones capable of stepping up and scoring goals next season.
At #10 on my countdown of questions heading into next season: Will a young forward breakout?
I should note that Ryan McLeod belongs in this conversation. At just 23 years old and with just 138 games of NHL experience under his belt, there is definitely still some untapped potential here.
Even though he only has 20 goals in his first 138 regular season games, I strongly believe that this is a player who’s capable of popping home 20 goals next season. If he starts shooting the puck more and gets a little bit more confident in the offensive zone, then he can break out.
The other candidates in this spot are Dylan Holloway and Rafael Lavoie.
Let’s start with Lavoie.
The 2019 second-round pick was injured to start last season down in Bakersfield and that resulted in a pretty slow start to the season.
When he finally got going, however, he was a stud for the Condors. He finished the season with 25 goals in 61 games and that was after scoring just twice in his first 13 games.
How impressive was that run? I’ll do the math for ya, he had 23 goals in his final 48 regular season games.
That is some damn good production and it’s hard to not look at those numbers, along with his 6’4″ frame, and start dreaming about a world where he’s playing alongside one of the Oilers’ top two centremen.
That’s probably a ways down the road, but the other thing that’s going to help out Lavoie as he tries to work his way up the Oilers depth chart is the fact that he shoots right. The right-side of the Oilers depth chart is not nearly as deep as the left-side and that means if Lavoie starts to prove that he can produce at the NHL level, it won’t be nearly as hard for him to start getting more and more minutes.
It’s far from a lock that Lavoie will be an impactful top-nine forward for the Oilers next season and honestly, it’s far from a lock that he’s even on the roster come opening night, but there is a chance that the soon-to-be 23-year-old breaks through in his fourth season of professional hockey.
As for Holloway, expectations seem to have cooled a bit on him. He was the darling of the 2022 preseason and really got the fanbase’s hopes up when he scored a late preseason hat trick. I remember predicting that he would get 40 points last season.
He got a few short looks in the top six to start the season but never really gained any traction. Most nights he played under 10 minutes and it just never seemed like Jay Woodcroft and his staff trusted him.
When he was finally sent back down to the AHL, he suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup for over a month. When he got back to playing games for the Condors though, his production was incredible. He popped home seven goals in just 12 regular season games and at times really looked like a player who was too good for the AHL.
I still believe that he has tremendous upside and I don’t think a 15-goal campaign next year is out of the question. There were some stretches where he started to look really comfortable on a line with Ryan McLeod and if those two can build on that seemingly natural chemistry, then they could form a very solid third line for the Oilers.
Outside of Holloway and Lavoie, there is really only one other young player that I think has a good shot to crack the NHL lineup next season and that’s Jayden Grubbe. The 20-year-old has never played professional hockey but his last season with the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL was very solid and the Oilers have a clear hole in the 4C spot.
If he has an impressive camp, I could see the team keeping him around but that feels like a longshot.
A year from now we could be having conversations about Xavier Bourgeault and maybe even players like Carter Savoie, Tyler Tulio, or Matvei Petrov, but that will be determined by how they look in the AHL.
For now, it’s really just the trio of McLeod, Holloway, and Lavoie who have a chance to be young, breakout forwards for the Oilers next season.
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