With the junior and collegiate ranks relatively quiet until after Christmas, the focus for this week’s edition was the Bakersfield Condors. While the Condors only played twice this week, there were some interesting developments amongst three of the most focused on Condor prospects: Raphael Lavoie, Xavier Bourgault and Carter Savoie.

Who Caught My Eye

Raphael Lavoie

To say that Lavoie’s year has been uneven would be an understatement. However, in light of his entire tenure as an Oilers prospect, perhaps it is more par for the course. The big right winger entered this season with a limited group of wingers in front of him on the organizational depth chart. Unfortunately, he had to wait to start the year due to a knee injury suffered late last season. This was a setback for certain because prior to the injury, Lavoie had started to show what makes him an exciting prospect.  Between mid-December and mid-February, Lavoie posted 20 points in 21 games. In that period, he also had 77 shots on net for an average of almost four per game.
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So when Lavoie returned to the Condors this year, there were expectations for him to take another step. It looked encouraging right off the start with three points in his first four games. Unfortunately, the inconsistency and uneven play returned to Lavoie’s game and he went his next nine without registering a point. For those who follow me, you know that I am convinced this player has NHL size, skating ability, puck skills and enough scoring touch to play NHL games. What has always been a concern is how many games he can go without being noticed and without impacting play positively. This latest bout even had reports of Lavoie being healthy scratched, although that was refuted later by the team and he was promptly put on injured reserved for two weeks.
Whether it was a nagging injury that healed or the rest or it was the first stages of what Raphael Lavoie can be, this week was a good one. It started with this play right here. A play that gives Oiler fans chills for what could be,
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A right-shot power forward sniper, in the current climate of the Oilers, would be just what the doctor ordered. This is absolutely his calling card.
Lavoie finished the game as the first star collecting an assist as well and playing a dominant game in all three zones. The question was what would Lavoie do the next night in the second game of this back-to-back series. While Lavoie did not get on the score sheet, I was more encouraged by this game. This shift below is very encouraging to me. He attacks with speed and physicality. When he is denied, he gets on the back track and forces a turnover. He then promptly gets back on offence creating a chance for a teammate. This type of play is within his capability every shift of every game.
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Here is another example of how Lavoie can be a two-hundred-foot player. He starts down low in his own zone and then is up the ice on the transition play for a scoring chance without much strain.
Now the key is for Lavoie to string these games together. That begins on December 28, 2022.

Xavier Bourgault

Xavier Bourgault continues to be the Condors most consistent forward and probably the Oilers’ most consistent forward prospect at all levels. Like any rookie pro, he has seen struggles in various parts of his game, but his effort level in all three zones remains consistent. For me, this is very encouraging because this is often more the exception than the rule for offensively gifted prospects. There will be times when the pucks are not going in, but if the coach can count on a player’s effort level in all situations, he will continue to see the ice.  This week Bourgault played two solid games and ended up with two assists for his efforts. While both were second assists, I think each is instructive of his play. Watch this first one and notice how much pace Bourgault plays with and how his feet always are moving. It isn’t the prettiest assist, but he’s a key part of this entire sequence.
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Here is another example of Bourgault. Again, the little thing of constant motion is present. Also in this clip, Bourgault displays his willingness to go to a tougher area and make life hard on a goalie. The result was a goal and another second assist.
It is these plays that ingratiate players to coaches. The less visible, but equally important plays off the puck that lead to scoring chances for the teams, and for the player, more ice.
Finally, I want to circle back to what I think will allow Bourgault to get to the NHL sooner: his defensive zone conscience. Watch this little play that really seems like nothing much. Except, watch in the context of knowing that Bourgault is an offensive dynamo. First, he’s positionally sound in his zone. When his team gets the puck, instead of springing for offence, he waits patiently as an outlet for his defenceman and then exits the puck from the zone so his team can change. A coach’s dream right here.
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Carter Savoie

The other twenty-year-old that had a notable week was Carter Savoie. Again, those who follow me know I think this is a prospect that has a chance at an NHL future. He has very good puck skills and his skating, while not a strength, is serviceable and should get better as he gets stronger. It is his shot though that makes him an intriguing prospect. Look at both his ability to release the puck quick and also to change the blade angle to provide some deception.
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Unfortunately, Savoie’s pro debut has not been much of a success to date. He only has 3-2-5 in 20 games this season. More surprising is that he has only 21 shots in those 20 games. He has been healthy scratched this season and routinely plays limited minutes on a fourth line.  This week that changed some. He played a regular shift mostly on a line with Brad Malone and Dino Kambeitz. The encouraging aspect was that this line played in all situations so Savoie got a fair shake. This is a very important development for him. One of the more odd aspects of Savoie’s season has been his limited minutes even when ECHL players are in the line-up. More confounding was not using him in power play situations to both take advantage of his offensive skills and to try to build some confidence. Not this week. Carter Savoie got all the ice time.
“How were his results,” you ask? Well as my kids would tell me “meh”. He had no points in the two games, but did register seven shots on goal.  He had his moments, but even then, the moments weren’t everything you hoped for. Here are two of the better clips of Savoie’s two games this week. Watch them and then scroll up and watch the clips of the other twenty-year-old, Xavier Bourgault. Tell me what you see.
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For me, it is the pace at which he plays and the hardness (or lack thereof) with which he plays. Now I cannot tell you why that is the case. Perhaps it is fitness or injury or lack of confidence playing at this level, but Carter Savoie has the ability to play a more robust game at a better pace. Take a look at this clip of a series of plays from his collegiate days.
For certain collegiate hockey is different than the level of hockey produced in the AHL. However, Carter Savoie has done it at the pro level as this clip demonstrates.
Whatever the root cause of this type of play, Carter Savoie has to find his footing in the second half of the season. A constant critique of mine has been the deployment of prospects by the Condors’ coaching staff. Well, the coaching staff gave Carter Savoie a chance to get noticed. Did he do enough? It was a start, but a more tepid one than what could be hoped for.
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Well, folks that is it for me until after Christmas. Thanks to everyone for supporting my work and providing great feedback. To you and yours, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.