Shoot First Mentality
If you were describing the perfect fit for the top six on the Edmonton Oilers’ roster, it would be this exact description. It would be this player type. It would be Raphael Lavoie.
The problem being is that the 2019 second round draft pick is further away from the Oilers’ top six today than on the day he was drafted. Seize the day Raphael, seize the day.
What Does the Man Bring?
Here is the classic scouting dilemma: Raphael Lavoie brings all the physical tools to be a NHL top 6 forward. The most noticeable tool about him other than his size is his shot. Lavoie has all the types of shots and shot mechanics to make him a scorer at the NHL level. He has a quick release. He’s very accurate with his shot. He also can change angles on his release creating a deceptive shot for a goalie to handle. All of this can be seen below, and it is why he still finished second on the Condors in shots taken with 148 for an average of 2.64 per game despite playing only 56 games due to a late season injury.
Lavoie is not just a shooter though. He has excellent hands and is a tremendous puck handler in tight quarters. Often, defenders try to come to him to take away the shot and his hands, big body and reach allow him to beat the defender and move to a better spot to create offense.
Another element of his game that is positive is his skating for a big man. While the mechanics are a little hinky, Lavoie accelerates quite quickly to top end and his speed is NHL average. When applied he can cause chaos on opposition puck carriers because he can combine it with a long reach. He also can separate himself and exploit seams quite proficiently. His skating will not be a weakness for him at the NHL level.
Sounds Too Good to Be True
It might be. Lavoie started the 21/22 season well. In the 33 games before Jay Woodcroft left for Edmonton, he had 18 points or a .55 pts/g pace. For a player in his first full year at the AHL level that is a fair to good number. Indeed, it would be comparable to such 2019 picks like Nolan Foote, Brayden Tracey and Ryan Suzuki, who all played significant AHL minutes this season. Unfortunately, there are two problems here. First, in his last 23 games of the season, he scored 8 points or .35 pts/g. A significant decrease from the first part of the season. Now perhaps he was more impacted by the Jay Woodcroft promotion. That is something that can bear heavily on a young player. However, adversity is part of the game, and he will need to be able to manage those situations.
The second problem with his pts/g average is that there are players in that same draft area in 2019 such as Jacob Pelletier, Arthur Kaliyev, Nick Robertson and a handful of others who either substantially exceeded these results or have already made the jump to NHL regular. Kaliyev being the most notable comparison here. Now all prospects develop at a different pace, but the concern with Lavoie is that what is holding him back are the same concerns that made him a second-round draft pick instead of a first-round pick.
Primarily, the issue for Lavoie is consistency of effort. Too often the play dies either on his stick or in his area of play. This concern is even more amplified with Lavoie because while offensively talented players often have great work in the offensive zone, Lavoie does not. It comes and goes in every single zone. Lavoie often relies on his teammates in the defensive zone and the neutral zone to turn the puck over and often he is the first to cheat up the ice. In the offensive zone, which may be a major red flag, Lavoie often has the puck die on his stick too much. Too much for anyone, but especially for a man of his size with the pucks skills he has. This is not to say he cannot do it because he can. Look at the difference in these clips. The body is able, but the mind is not always willing.
The other major issue with Lavoie is his habits for the game away from the puck in his own zone. He’s often puck focused and loses his assignment creating high danger chances. While normal for a young player, it is something to watch because it grew in frequency as the season went along which is the reverse of what the Oilers would want. Below is one sample of something that happens to him more often than it should.
What Does It All Mean?
Honestly, I don’t know. Lavoie is the one prospect that bemuses me when I analyze him. This skill set that Lavoie brings is very unique and it makes him hard to compare. He has some qualities that make him a middle 6 forward and a PP specialist on a NHL team. I’ve seen comparisons to Anthony Mantha out there. I don’t know how to feel about that. Mantha was an elite goal scorer at the QMJHL. Lavoie was a good goal scorer, but not elite. Mantha’s first AHL season is closer to Lavoie’s which is why the comparable may be more applicable. Certainly, they are both very inconsistent 200-foot players. Whether Mantha is right comp, I’m not sure. I see more games where Lavoie looks like Alex Chiasson than Anthony Mantha.
What is for certain for Raphael Lavoie is that he needs to seize the day. This year is very important for him and his standing in the Oilers organization. The Oilers have a need he can fill, whether Lavoie can do it is entirely up to him.