When the Bakersfield Condors finished their two-game sweep of the Texas Stars, most of them started making treks for holiday plans during the AHL break.
However, one player packed his gear to play more hockey this week as Raphael Lavoie headed west to San Jose for the annual AHL All-Star celebration. Lavoie’s first half has been a tale of consistent good performance. His 13-11—24 totals in 32 games have him fourth on the Condors.
He continues to shoot the puck with frequency, averaging well over three shots per game, and he also shows up to defend his teammates. This year, what has been different is his defensive play. It was always there in spurts, but he has been a consistently reliable defensive presence. So reliable that he plays big minutes defending a lead and even has some 5v6 time this year.
This week we saw all of that on display again with Lavoie. He is a player who keeps reminding the Oilers management group and other NHL teams of his presence. More on the AHL All-Star, the best defender in the AHL at the moment and all your news and notes in this week’s Edmonton Oiler prospect report.
Who Caught My Eye?
This may seem like a back-handed compliment, but Raphael Lavoie just keeps doing the same thing each week for the Bakersfield Condors. It’s really meant to be high praise. The Lavoie of the past could have runs of good games followed by runs of less than good games or even unnoticeable games.
Not this year.
Almost every night, he brings the same things: a shooter’s mentality, physical play and good to great defending. This week was really no different. He had three assists in three games and an even plus/minus mark. His shot totals were a little lower at only six through the three games.
He was, however, an integral part in the Condors winning two of three games. His game really is driven by his ability to work to get pucks and retain them in tight quarters until he finds better solutions. Watch this little clip of how good his hands are in tight and how he can use his big frame to protect the puck.
Here is another great example of his wall work. Watch the patience he exhibits when attacked by two Stars. He simply holds the puck and turns to shield it using his big body. Both players back out and Lavoie is now set up to hand the puck off to Lane Pederson who is in full motion with lots of space.
This may seem like an easy thing to do, but it really is not. Lavoie’s confidence that he could handle the checks of two players with his hands and his size is the reason his patience paid off.
Now, not everything went his way this week. Lavoie did get reminded in the first game against the Stars that he needs to be committed to the cause on the defensive side or he will get burned. This is especially important for a player who is certainly destined for a bottom-six role in the NHL.
In these roles, the priority is place on not getting scored on more so than even scoring. Here is a minus one where Lavoie got puck watching when linemates were struggling to get the puck out. Watch him fail to move to the most dangerous player on the ice when he has the chance. Again, he had some teammates who were culpable for this goal against, but he was as well.
The one thing about All-Star breaks is they remind me the trade deadline is around the corner. I wonder a lot if Raphael Lavoie will be packing his suitcase as part of an Oilers trade package. His current fit on the Oilers is tough given what he brings to the table and what is already in Edmonton.
However, if he does stay, he certainly has grown his game to be a better fit for the Oilers next season.
I really do think he is the best defenseman in the AHL’s Pacific Division. There is no question that of Anaheim Ducks prospect Owen Zellweger is scoring more than him, although on a points-per-game basis, it is very close. Zellweger also sports an even plus/minus on the year while Philip Broberg is a plus 14. Seattle Kraken prospect Ryker Evans is the only other name close and he doesn’t score at Broberg’s level, nor does he defend as well.
I know one of Broberg or his agent were unhappy with the demotion but, there has been absolutely no sign of that in his play. In his 27 games, he is 1-17—18 with that lofty plus 14. He is also shooting the puck more than ever approaching three shots per game.
He is a 23-minute-a-night defender who plays in every single situation, and I mean every one of them, and he excels. His offensive game has been really fun to watch.
He has this very “Oscar Klefbom
” way of making simple plays that get to his teammates in good spots quickly. It mostly goes unnoticed or looks simple, but don’t be fooled, this is high skill stuff. Watch him on this powerplay in this clip. The puck doesn’t stay on his stick but for a millisecond giving Seth Griffith space to release a great shot.
It is not any coincidence the Condors’ powerplay has been one of the best in the AHL since Broberg returned. He makes strong plays at the blue line and has great mobility, but also a great first pass to players in spots to score.
Here is another play, this time at evens, that looks simple. First, Broberg displays some incredible footwork for a big man with the puck. When he loses control, he moves back up to the point and then when he gets the puck, he moves it to Matvey Petrov who scores a great goal. Again, the puck is off his stick quickly and it is an accurate pass. It gives Petrov to one time the shot while the goalie is moving.
This weekend was the most impressive part for me though. Broberg didn’t even register a point, but he was still impressive. The Condors played the two top scorers in the AHL, Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque.
Coach Chaulk tried to have Broberg out whenever they were out there. That duo registered one point each in two games and it was on a goal where Broberg was not on the ice. He was smothering in both games on both players.
This clip is an example of what the Stars saw all weekend. Broberg using his feet and his body to erase a player and gather the puck. Then he promptly advances the puck up the ice to his teammate.
Again, there is nothing that makes the late-night sports hi-light package. However, it is something that will get him to the NHL. There is no question this is an NHL defender right now. He’s likely a very good one. It would be asinine for the Oilers to trade this player unless it was a Mattias Ekholm style of deal for the right side of the defense group.
I wrote about Bourgault this week as his game really started to come together
. To be fair, he has been playing well for some time, but his issue is that he cannot score. That, however, changed a little this week, as in three games he registered a goal and an assist. His goal was a penalty kill beauty displaying those great hands.
His assist might have been even better. Defending a 5v6 attack late in the game, Bourgault makes a great stick play to gather in the puck and then exhibits great patience to get the puck to James Hamblin to seal the victory.
Bourgault’s offensive instincts are elite. His ability to process the game at high speed and make good choices is impressive. Watch another example here. He makes a great read to intercept a puck, and instantly, the puck is on to a teammate’s stick for a chance on the net.
Lately, Bourgault has played a lot of penalty kills, and he did this early last season as well. I think his quick read of the game and his stick do make him a very good penalty killer. Here was another chance for Bourgault this week on the penalty kill.
For a player who was likely counted on to make the NHL as an offensive weapon, I wonder if this success as a penalty killer might help get him there in a middle-six role.
The one thing that needs work is the shot because I’ve never really thought he was a great shooter of the puck. Bourgault has more success in tight and down low for scoring, but he doesn’t often beat goalies from a distance.
Watch this play here. Bourgault does a really nice job helping gain puck possession in the offensive zone, then when he gets into a spot to shoot, watch the mechanics. No eyes on the net. An awkward body set up for the attack. Then a very long, sweeping release that gives the goaltender plenty of time to react.
I wonder a bunch about whether Bourgault’s best off-season move would be to work with a shooting instructor to fine tune the release. It may lead to improved scoring and with that improved confidence for a player who clearly is struggling there.
News And Notes
A quiet week of notes. Shane Lachance was moved back down the fourth line at Boston University. He had been up on the second line, but his play had tailed off.
James Hamblin suffered a lower-body injury in the first period last night and never returned to the game. Here is the clip of the injury.
The Condors are off until Friday and with the collegiate season starting to wind up, I expect more collegiate reports starting next week.
That’s all for this week folks. Send me your love to @bcurlock
on the X or just yell at me. You can do the very same right here in the comments section.
Have a great week.
Updated: 7:18 pm (links)