The 2022 version of the NHL Draft presented a variety of options to Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland. When it came to the 32nd pick, the Oilers had a choice of many high-profile players. There was a nice group of defenders like Seamus Casey, Lane Hutson and Ryan Chelsey. Also available were some nice OHL center prospects in Luka Del Bel Belluz and Owen Beck.
Finally, there were also some pure offensive talents like Jager Firkus of Moose Jaw. With the selection, the Edmonton Oilers stayed close to home drafting 6’4″ 220-pound Reid Schaefer.
Now let’s be clear Schaefer was not an off-the-board pick by any means. Bob McKenzie of TSN, whose list is developed using NHL team scouts and management, had him in the 37th slot. NHL Central Scouting had him slotted at 31st of all available North American skaters. So it wasn’t a “reach” for him to be selected there. However, there were questions. Could Schaefer score like he did in his draft year when he had 32 goals in 66 games? Or would he revert to the player who in 61 games between the AJHL and the WHL over the two prior seasons had six goals? This question was more prominent because Schaefer had 21 of his 32 goals after the Christmas break in the 2021/22 season. Well, what has happened since his draft has been a journey. One that has created maybe more questions than answers about who is Reid Schaefer.
We talk about Schaefer, who you might see on right wing for the Edmonton Oilers sooner than you think, and more in this week’s Edmonton Oiler Prospect Report.
Who Caught My Eye This Week?
I’ve written about Schaefer in the premiere edition of this column
more than two months ago. As you’ll note, I was more than ready to dismiss concerns about whether Schaefer had caught lightning in a bottle in his draft year. In his first 22 games of this season, he had 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points. More impressive was that 10 of his 15 goals were even strength with another short-handed. He was not feasting on power plays to pad his stat line. Then came the selection to the World Junior team for Schaefer. Everything was progressing just as Oilers management I am certain would hope. Then a funny thing happened.
I have to tell you this is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to prospects playing in these tournaments, especially for Canada. Reid Schaefer was told, don’t worry about scoring at all. Just use your size and be physical. Now I am not saying he shouldn’t do this, but Reid Schaefer has shown he can score while still being responsible and physical. All I have is anecdotal evidence, but I believe the World Juniors tournament and how Schaefer was utilized caused him trouble over the next 6 weeks. In 18 games since he returned with a gold medal around his neck, but prior to this week, Schaefer scored only four goals along with eight assists. More importantly to me, his shot totals declined from 4.3 per game to 3.4 per game. During this time, the Thunderbirds added offensive dynamos, Brad Lambert and Dylan Guenther to the team. To complicate the situation further, Schaefer was put on a line with these two and it didn’t go according to plan.
Suddenly Schaefer was looking less like the scoring dynamo that developed in his draft year and more like the player who had limited scoring success in 2019/20 and 2020/21. All of this in a situation that appeared, from the outside looking in, as one that would lead to much more scoring success. So what do we have here? Well, let me jump to the end right now. I think Reid Schaefer is going to be just fine. I’m certain many of you will give me the “told ya so”, but for me, there was real worry until I dug into the video and the analytics.
To start with, it wouldn’t be controversial to say Schaefer is with Guenther and Lambert as the defensive conscience of the line. He’s consistently F3 in the offensive zone and F1 in the defensive zone until the play gets sorted. By default, this would lead to fewer opportunities for Schaefer. In addition, Guenther and Lambert are pure shooters who fire when ready. The two have a combined 76 shots in 9 games together. Schaefer, in the same nine games, had 22 shots on net. So the concern was whether Schaefer would default to this defensive focus that started at the World Juniors and had carried through to this week. In other words, would he defer to his linemates offensively? Well for at least one week, Reid Schaefer decided not to do that. In his four games, Schaefer and the offensive game that made him a first-round pick came back to life. He totalled four goals and four assists along with 14 shots on net. The key for me was Schaefer asserting himself on the ice regardless of who his linemates were at any time as we will see below.
However, let’s start with the goals he scored this week. Each goal was a combination of his great release and his very soft hands.
However, of all four goals this week, this was my favourite. Schaefer started to force the play in the offensive zone, not with his size only, but with his skills. This is a big man for sure, but he has excellent puck skills and of course a tremendous shot. What I like with this goal is how much the puck went through his stick on the shift and how he both set up teammates and then made himself available for an attack.
This is the clip that we want to see more of as the season progresses regardless of who is on the ice with Schaefer.
Here is one final example of his assertive play leading to a goal for a teammate. I understand the context of where the game was at, but that did not matter to Schaefer. He wanted the puck, got it, made a strong chip play, and drove the net hard allowing a teammate to clean up the rebound. This is good Reid Schaefer stuff!
As for Schaefer’s defensive play, fear not, it was not sacrificed at all this week. Schaefer is consistently used in 4v4 and PK situations and it is his size and hockey sense that makes him so effective. Watch this 4v4 clip from this week. Watch how Schaefer defends and then has the patience and puck skills to make a great pass to exit the zone and create an offensive opportunity.
One final clip related both to his defensive skills, but also about his more assertive play this week. He gets a stick in the mouth for his efforts, but I loved that he didn’t settle for a change of possession without trying to create an opportunity for his team.
So what do we hope for in the coming weeks? Schaefer continuing to take a leadership role on the ice offensively and not deferring to teammates. Use the skills and size and do it as often as possible. Reid Schaefer’s defensive game is just fine, let’s focus on the offensive side of the puck for the remainder of the season.
Another three games and another two goals this week. Lavoie is up 18 goals and 30 points in 41 games this season. More impressive to me is that he is averaging almost half a shot more per game this year than last (3.0 this year to 2.6 last year). In the three games this week, Lavoie had 12 shots on net. His goals were the same type of impressive goals he has scored all year. The first with that tremendous wrist shot from distance.
The second one, and one of my favourites of his career and a candidate for AHL goal of the year, a strong power move to the net with a beautiful touch in tight on the goaltender.
When Lavoie isn’t scoring he is still creating high-danger chances with his size, puck skills and edge work.
Here is another clip of Lavoie creating something out of very little. I am highlighting it because it leads into the next topic: Lavoie’s defensive awareness and efforts. Here is an example where Lavoie wins a battle at the offensive blueline and thereby avoids a transition attack the other way. How does he do it? He’s assertive with his body and his stick in the battle and doesn’t stop the compete. This has not always been his forte.
One of the most frequent comments I get about Lavoie is about his defensive game. These are legitimate comments. I have criticized Lavoie’s defensive efforts many times in the last two years. I have good news
, it is getting better. The Condors are essentially an even team on goal differential while at even strength. Would it surprise you to know that Raphael Lavoie is plus 5 in this category (yes we know its flaws as a stat). Would it further surprise you to know that there is only one forward on the team with a better plus/minus ranking. Now, let’s be clear, Lavoie needs to keep getting better, but there have been dramatic strides. Here is a great clip of Lavoie working in all three zones to defend. First, watch his backtrack into a lane almost making the intercept. Then he takes up the F1 forecheck role and helps force a weak dump in to the Condors zone. Finally, watch his wall work to exit the zone allowing his team to change. This is excellent work.
Here are a couple of more clips showing some of Lavoie’s improved defending. The first is a neutral zone clip where Lavoie uses his stick and his body to erase an attack by the opposition.
The second clip is a nice, simple example of Lavoie’s improved defensive awareness. His feet are always moving and his head is on a swivel. He rotates down as the weakside winger should do in this defensive set-up while keeping an eye on his mark up top. He then explodes up the ice once he sees a turnover which forces the defenceman to back off allowing a certain exit from the zone. This has not always been a part of Lavoie’s game, but it is now.
Finally, here is one example of his improved play on defensive faceoffs. Off a clean win on the draw, he gets out to the point in good time and his active stick creates a turnover. The play leads to Lavoie having an offensive opportunity. I cannot express to you how good this play is for Lavoie’s chances at NHL games. He plays good defence and then uses all of those natural offensive skills to create an opportunity off of his defensive zone work.
Now you might be saying why are you highlighting a player who only had one assist in three games this week and only one point in his last seven games? Well, Michael Kesselring is developing another facet of his game. To be certain, he is still doing all of the things that have made him a noticeable prospect this year. Here is a great clip of Kesselring defending his blueline well and then gathering in the puck and attacking up the ice.
His 1v1 defending continues to get better each game. Here is a nice clip of him using his reach and skating ability to seal off an attack and create a turnover.
However, the reason I wanted to focus on Kesselring this week is that he has assumed the QB role on the first powerplay for the Condors recently. As I have noted before, Kesserling has not seen very much powerplay time at all in his two years in Bakersfield. In the last two weeks, Kesselring has finally been given a chance to run the powerplay. Most of this relates to the fact the Condors powerplay has not been effective this year and a modest amount relates to injuries. Nevertheless, Kesselring has assumed the role and the power play has been much more dynamic under Kesselring’s work at the point. Watch these two clips and notice how involved Kesselring is in the powerplay and how much offence is created due to his efforts.
I cannot help but think that all of this specialty teamwork Kesselring is getting has been noticed in OEG offices. He was already a fixture on the penalty kill, so any positive contribution Kesserling can make on the powerplay improves his standing as a prospect for the Edmonton Oilers. A positive development for an organization that might need more cost controller right-handed defenders next season.
That is it for this week. Feedback is always welcome in the comments below or to me directly on Twitter, @bcurlock. See you next week.
THE OILERSNATION 15TH BIRTHDAY PARTY