Edmonton Oilers prospect Raphael Lavoie’s game is clicking — once again — at the right time
By Zach Laing9 months ago
For Raphael Lavoie, it’s been a season of highs and lows.
No surprise, really, for a 22-year-old still trying to find his way in the American Hockey League. But yet, Lavoie — as has been the case in years past — has his game coming around in the latter half of the season.
It was a slow start to the season for Lavoie. Hampered by a knee injury that carried over from 2021-22, he missed the first six games of the season for the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. In his first 13 games of the season, Lavoie scored only two goals and an assist while taking 20 shots on goal.
“I had some hiccups at the start of the year,” Lavoie told me after the Condors beat the Calgary Wranglers 2-1 in Calgary last Thursday. “I wasn’t feeling so great about my knee and all those things, but now, everything’s perfect.”
Another absence from the lineup came as Lavoie missed a four-game stretch in early December. As soon as he rejoined the lineup, something changed in his game. In a 2-1 win over the Colorado Eagles On Dec. 20th, Lavoie had an assist on the Condors’ opening goal, and found the back of the net with the game-winner 30 seconds later.
Since then, he’s been a house on fire. In his 19 games since returning from injury, Lavoie has found the back of the net 10 times while adding another 10 assists. Oh, and he’s taken a staggering 69 shots on goal.
He had chipped in four goals and six points in his first six games back, and during a road trip through Calgary, some fire came out of Lavoie’s game. As our prospects writer Bruce Curlock mentioned at the time, Lavoie had taken a tripping penalty seven minutes into the second period. He didn’t see the ice the rest of the frame, and at the start of the third, he got into his fifth-ever fight — and first in the American League.
“I was already starting to produce a little bit,” he said. “There’s a lot of emotions in the game and I feel that was really part of it. I had a lot of anger to put out there.”
Lavoie’s strengths have always been there. He’s got a great shot, and his size is hard to miss. He stands at 6’4″ and 215 lbs. and is learning more and more how to play a power-forward game. Last week on Thursday and Friday against the Calgary Wranglers — a big, strong, veteran-heavy team — Lavoie shined. He scored the game-winner on Thursday night using his size to position himself at the side of the net before getting a backhander off and into the net.
Even beyond that Lavoie used his size to bully opposing players. Hard to knock off the puck in the offensive zone, he looked like a player who belongs. What’s most impressive, however, is the growth in his game without the puck.
“Being reliable defensively, getting those rims,” said Lavoie, when asked what he’s been working most on. “That was something that was really put in since when (now OIlers head coach Jay Woodcroft) was coaching me, and Chucker (current Condors head coach Colin Chaulk) was coaching me.
“The offensive game is going to develop by itself, but you really got to be able to focus on being reliable defensively and making sure you have your coach’s confidence.”
That confidence is oozing and so is consistency in his game — something Chaulk and the Condors coaching staff have taken notice of.
“If we take him back to last season… it was right before Christmas before he scored his first goal,” Chaulk told me last Thursday. “I was in a different role, doing the heavy lifting, going on the ice extra really trying to find his game and get him confidence. It was hard for him to do it every day and doing that consistently.
“Interestingly enough, he got hot around the same time he did last year. So now the message to Raph is ‘do it again. Do it again, and do it again.’ What he needs to do — and you saw some glimpses tonight — drive around people, play that power game, not go through people, drive the puck wide, play fast without the puck, take it to the net, shoot the puck, stay in the paint.
“And all those things, he’s starting to do consistently.”
More from my trip to Calgary to watch the Bakersfield Condors
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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