Raphael Lavoie Expects to Push for NHL Job
By Jason Gregor7 months ago
Raphael Lavoie turns 23 in September. The 6’4″ right winger has added 20 pounds of muscle since he was drafted 38th overall in 2019. Lavoie improved every year in junior. He scored 30, 32 and 38 goals and his point totals increased from 63 to 73 to 82. And he played 55 games his final year after 68 in his first season due to COVID prematurely ending his junior career. His first pro season started in Sweden where he scored 23 goals and 45 points in 51 games, before finishing the season in the AHL playing 19 games and producing 5-5-10.
In his first full season in the AHL, he was okay. He produced 13-13-26 in 56 games. He started the season with no goals in his first 18 games. It wasn’t how he dreamed it would go, but he grew as a person and a player. Then he got injured late in the season, and he was unable to participate in either the Oilers or Condors training camps last fall. He played his first game in seven months on November 2nd for Bakersfield. His first two months weren’t great, but when the calendar turned to 2023, Lavoie took off.
He was Bakersfield’s best player from January 1st. He scored 21 goals and 38 points in their final 43 games. His confidence was high. His defensive game improved. He was more physical, and last week Lavoie surprised some people when he bet on himself and signed his qualifying offer. Because he hadn’t played in the NHL, his QO was a two-way deal. He makes $874K in the NHL and $70K in the AHL. He could have not accepted it and then renegotiated a deal that would have had him at the NHL league-minimum $775K, but more in the AHL.
Over the phone Lavoie explained why he signed his QO.
“I’m excited for the year, and I want to see what I can do at the NHL level,” he said. “I am betting on myself, and we’ll see where that leaves me. I asked my agent what he thought was best for me and we thought that was the best thing for me and that’s why we took it (qualifying offer).
Lavoie is more focused on playing well in camp than he is about making more money in the AHL right now. He’s very excited about being healthy and able to train all summer, after rehabbing last off-season. His injury was a big factor in his slow start.
“You don’t want to use injuries as an excuse, but the first game I played last season was my first game in seven months,” Lavoie said. “It was the first major injury of my career and I had to regain my confidence that everything was good. Then I had to get my timing and speed of the game back. It took a while to adjust, but then things took off after about 20 games. Confidence was a big part of it.”
Confidence is huge for any player, and for those coming off injuries, sometimes their biggest hurdle is quieting the doubt that emulates between their ears. It took Lavoie a few months to find his game, but when he did, he took off. I asked him what he liked about his game over the final four months of the season.
“I was efficient,” he said. “I was taking a lot of pucks to the net and generating a lot of scoring chances, whether it be finding guys or me creating my own chance. But I was also efficient without the puck. Since I’ve been in Bakersfield, we’ve been working on that a lot as well as being reliable everywhere on the ice. I think that is really what helped me have success offensively.
“I was able to create plays. I was more efficient on the fore check, I hit more, and guys start to make turnovers, and even though I didn’t have the puck, I wound up in more situations having it because I was more efficient without the puck. Then we get pucks off the fore check, generate turnovers and then the offence takes over. The efficiency without the puck has really helped my game.”
The excitement in Lavoie’s voice when he talked about his on-ice improvements was noticeable. He got results from playing the right way in the AHL, and he is hoping that will carry over to the NHL. In junior he was quite aggressive. He was physical, hard on pucks and opposing players, but has it been difficult bringing that style to the AHL?
“A little bit,” he said. “In juniors when you are good and big, there aren’t many guys in the league who can stop you. You are one of the big dogs, but then you get to the pro level, you look around and you aren’t the big dog here. Guys are a lot bigger, a lot stronger, a lot tougher and it takes some time to have the strength to be able to play that style of game.
“It took me some time to get bigger and stronger in the gym, put on a few pounds, get faster and quicker and get a little tougher to be able to have that game at the pro level. I’m still working on it, but I’ve taken some steps since junior, and I feel I’m able to play that style more now.”
He wants to test himself against NHL players, and admitted part of his decision to take the qualifying offer was the combination of his belief in himself, as well as the opportunities that await on the Oilers’ right-wing depth chart. He feels he is prepared to compete for a job when camp opens in September.
“I don’t want to walk in there and think ‘Oh my gawd’ and be overwhelmed,” said Lavoie. “I know everything that is going to happen. You have to battle hard for your spot on the NHL team, there are great players everywhere. You have to earn your spot, but I’m not walking in there like I’m a 19-year-old kid anymore. I feel I’m more mature and more ready.”
Lavoie is much heavier and stronger. He’s filled out his large 6’4″ frame. He weighs around 218 pounds. He has gained over 20 pounds of muscle since being drafted in 2019. He has the strength to move his big body and create advantages that he couldn’t do when he first turned pro.
Lavoie plans on arriving in Edmonton in mid to late August. He wants to give himself ample time to adjust to the time zone change and get in some quality skates and workouts at the Oilers facility. He might bug his Bakersfield teammate James Hamblin to let him crash at his place, but that’s still up in the air. He’s happy he has a contract. He doesn’t have to worry about it all summer, and he can focus on making sure he’s ready to give his best in training camp and pre-season and plans to be on the Oilers opening day roster.
FUN IN THE SUMMER…
I asked Lavoie what he does when he isn’t training or working out.
“I have a wake surf and bring out my buddies on the boat and we have a lot of fun,” said Lavoie. “I’m also trying to round out my golf game. My buddies are much better than me and it is quite frustrating (laughs). My one buddy he drives around 320. He is a scratch golfer. About half the time we tee off he laughs at me, even though he knows that every time he is going to outdrive me. He still lets me know about it and puts me in my place, but at least he is helping me. I am improving, and he is helping my swing, but I’m nowhere near him. I have to work on that.”
Do you take him out on the ice and laugh at him?
“A little bit. He is a decent player. He is a goalie, so he can stop me from time to time because he knows all my moves (laughs),” said Lavoie.
His friend, Zachary Bouthillier, was drafted in the seventh round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018 and played a few games in the ECHL.
CONTRACT and SALARY CAP…
The Oilers currently have 19 players on their NHL roster and need to sign Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod. They have $6,383,499 in cap space. If McLeod signs for $1.8m and Bouchard $3.85m, the Oilers would have $733,499k in cap space. They’d have to start the season with a 21-man roster. But if they manage to sign Bouchard to a deal around $3.2m then they’d have $1.333,499m in cap space. Adding Lavoie ($874,125k) to the roster would have them start the season with $459,374 in cap space. I’ve seen some suggestions that Lavoie opting to sign his QO rather than negotiate a higher AHL salary and league-minimum $775k deal makes it more difficult for the Oilers to have him on the roster. If they start the season with $459k in cap space or $559k, it isn’t massive difference. If he is clearly better, I see no reason to put him on waivers just to save $100k in cap space.
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