The big man with the cannon of a shot has Oiler fans thinking of the day when he’s playing on the right side of McDavid or Draisaitl or even Nugent-Hopkins filling the net on a nightly basis. In the abstract, it makes sense. He’s a right-handed shot with great size and his puck skills are strong. He came out of junior having increased his goal-scoring totals each year and doing so playing less games. When he turned pro, he appeared poised to move to the top of the Oiler prospect ranks.
Then along came COVIDand everything went wonky. Lavoie found out pretty quick the pro game was a different beast where the players are bigger, quicker and work harder. Lavoie’s initial full season saw some sparks, but more often than not, the big man struggled with effort level and his defensive play, and consequently saw less playing time. The year finished with a serious injury that had Lavoie miss training camp and the first month of the AHL season. So Lavoie entered this season in the last year of his entry-level contract and with his prospect status tarnished. Given all of this context, the 2022-23 season was a very important season for Raphael Lavoie. Guess what, he delivered.
Lavoie finished third in scoring on the team with 25-20-45 in 61 games. He actually was second in points per game and led the team in shots on net with 184. His 25 goals had him tied for 24th in the AHL.
Now you may look at this season and think it was a “good” season, but not a great one. Again, without context that would be true. However, remember Lavoie was coming off a season-ending injury that took a long time to heal. In the last half of this season(36 games), Lavoie scored at a .86 points per game average and more importantly, he scored goals at a rate of .5 per game. His 31 points in the back half of the season had him in the top 20 of league scoring. Without a doubt, those 36 games firmly re-established Raphael Lavoie as a legitimate prospect for the Edmonton Oilers and one who has a strong chance of being in Edmonton next season.
What Did I See?
You Wanna Talk About His Effort Level?
Why yes I do. Raphael Lavoie’s ticket to the NHL will not get punched without him being focused on his compete. Indeed, through junior and his early pro career, the most common critique was his battle level game in and game out. I have written no less than twenty articles on Raphael Lavoie and my most consistent theme with Lavoie was his effort level. With his size, skating ability and puck skills, Lavoie often was far too easy to play against. Here is an old clip that gives you three examples of what I am talking about. A lot of gliding and generally softer play from a guy who could be a real force.
Now that has changed 180 degrees for Lavoie. Take a look at a couple of clips from this year and notice how he keeps his feet going and is very hard on the puck and the player.
You cannot coach size. Raphael Lavoie has size. When he expends 100% of the energy he has on a shift, he is very difficult to handle. That is a translatable skill at the NHL level.
Now You Want To Talk About His Defence?
I get the enthusiasm for Lavoie’s offensive skills. However, he will not last long on a Jay Woodcroft team if he cannot play defence in all three zones. If effort level was the most common critique of Lavoie, his defensive game was second. This always was odd to me because he has such quick hands and a strong stick. Given his size, it made sense to me that he would be very good defensively. Perhaps his awareness could improve, but this year I watched a very sound defensive player. Here is a great example of his work without the puck. There is nothing spectacular here other sound positional hockey by a winger. He rotates down to the slot as he should do in the Condors’ system. He gets his head on a swivel with his stick on the interior side of the ice. This allows him to see the weak side D and protect against a pass through the slot. Boring, but exciting all at the same time.
Now watch his stick work and how he uses his body in a neutral zone sequence.
He gets his stick into a great position given the lack of options in the middle of the ice and has great reflexes to knock away the pass. He then eliminates his player to give his team a chance to recover the puck.
Finally, let’s take a look at his transition work off the puck. This clip starts with an offensive attack that gets denied. Lavoie works back up the ice and, again, using his stick creates a loose puck. His chase on the opposition player ends up in a dump-in. The clip ends with Lavoie calmly receiving an outlet and using his puck skills to get himself to a quiet area so he can exit the puck to safety.
Here is another nice clip where Lavoie enters the offensive zone as F3. He rolls out and back on the turnover and marks his man all the way down to the corner. He then peels away to mark a point after another forward rolls down to the corner. The clip finishes with Lavoie chipping the puck in an making a nice forecheck play on the defenceman.
I would love for Lavoie to make such strides that he plays a top-six role for the Oilers. However, the reality is this is a player that may never leave the bottom six. If that is the case, he must have the necessary defensive chops to help his linemates stay above water at 5v5. I believe Lavoie took a big step in this direction this year.
Fire The Cannons!
Lavoie’s shot is his calling card. No question. His release is quick. His shot is accurate. His shot is hard. He will score from distance in the NHL if he gets looks. Here is just a sample of the goals he scored this year.
As I said, Lavoie’s calling card is his shot. If he can get into spots to get it off, it will have positive results.
How About The Hands?
The aspect of Lavoie’s game that doesn’t get enough love is his pucks skills. He has very quick hands and a unique ability to beat players in close quarters despite his size. This is usually reserved for smaller players. I really think this will be a great asset on the walls to assist in exits in the NHL. Here is a clip that shows this ability.
Here is another clip that shows off his hands. His close-quarter skills are very effective in maintaining possession under heavy pressure. When he combines this with constant footwork, he is tough to handle.
The Force Majeure
The critical aspect to Lavoie’s game that needs to happen consistently for him to have success in the NHL is asserting his will. He needs to use his size and skill in combination with a wrecking ball attitude. The NHL will have higher skill players, but they will not have bigger players. Plays like this will serve him well despite the higher skill competition.
Here is another one with partner in chaos Tyler Tullio.
Yes, yes for those of you worried about protecting Connor and Leon, Lavoie has that arrow in his quiver as well.
What Is The Future?
I think Lavoie has a place on the Oilers for the taking in 2023-24. He’s playing a position that is incredibly weak in terms of depth for the Oilers. He also will be a value contract relative to his competition on a team that will need salary cap relief. He also brings assets that Ken Holland likes in players on his roster with his size and physicality. Lavoie took a big step this year in his development. If he has a great off-season, he might take an even large one.
That is all for this season in review. As always, your feedback to me, @bcurlock, on Twitter is welcome and right here in the comments sections also.