Edmonton OilersProspects

Edmonton Oilers developmental profile: Raphael Lavoie

Hope springs eternal during the NHL offseason. Every NHL team is undefeated, moreover, improved since the end of last season thanks to changes in the offseason. One of the biggest and brightest sources of positivity is the presumed growth of young players. Within every fan base there is hope that young roster players will continue to improve, just as young players outside the NHL will take leaps and bounds towards NHL relevance. Even for an experienced team with legitimate championship aspirations, as the Edmonton Oilers are, there will always exist such hopes.

Despite the rose coloured glasses, many, if not most, of these prospects will fall short of these infinitely positive daydreams. Even for those among the best evaluators of talent, deciphering which prospects will work out is impossible. At best we can only try to project what might happen by trying to comprehend and contextualise the various facts available to us, each an enigma unto itself. Simply, between the chaotic randomness of hockey, the unpredictable trappings of mortality, the vast potential of the human form, the quirks and personalities of the individuals, and the circumstances and operations of their organisations as a whole all combine into a constellation of possibilities. 

Granted, some players might seem to have a wider or less concentrated range of outcomes than others. Among the most volatile in the Oilers organisation is the talented and mercurial forward Raphael Lavoie. Let’s take a look into where Lavoie’s developmental path has taken him so far, and where it might be going in the season ahead. 

Player profile

To get the obvious out of the way, Lavoie has all the tools to be a successful NHL player. With strong skating considering his 6’4” 196 lbs. size, a powerful and accurate shot including a good one-timer, as well as deft hands to make moves with the puck in tight spaces, Lavoie brings a lot to the table with his skills and attributes. To an extent, hope for his ascension as a prospect has always been obvious for this reason.

The fact that Lavoie’s NHL likelihood is purely speculative, as in he has yet to appear in an NHL game makes him a difficult projection. This is exacerbated by the volume of twists and turns since his draft year (DY). 

Perhaps Lavoie’s best season as a prospect, his DY-1 season, Lavoie came into his draft year as a potential first-round talent. Lavoie did well enough to uphold a lofty draft status, ultimately being selected in the second round. The relative scoring stagnation that followed his DY-1 and his DY followed Lavoie into his final QMJHL season, his DY+1. At this point, visions of the top line player we might have hoped for in Lavoie’s DY-1 had waned significantly.

In his DY+2 Lavoie was outstanding in the Allsvenskan, leading his team with 45 points in 51 games, scoring at a per game rate quite similar to his junior career. Lavoie carried this success into the AHL with a respectable 10 points in 19 games the same season. At this point, one might have thought it curious that Lavoie seemed to be able to score at the same level across different seasons and different leagues. Perhaps this tells us that Lavoie will always be a complimentary scorer rather than a dominant play driving force, but Lavoie had regained some momentum in general perception.

What followed was an unexpected struggle, lasting most of Lavoie’s DY+2 season, and even into the first half of last season, his DY+3 season. Lavoie scored 26 points in 56 games in his DY+2 season for the Bakersfield Condors, as well as seven goals and seven assists through the first 25 games of his DY+3 season. In his second and third seasons as a pro, the scoring and the effort were inconsistent enough to throw Lavoie out of the mix as a notable prospect altogether.

The second half of last season saw a complete upward swing for Lavoie’s prospects. Lavoie exploded for 15 goals and 31 points in the final 36 games with the Condors, feature as their most productive scorer and quite frankly the focal point of their offence as a whole. We are left to ask ourselves if Lavoie has finally put it all together for good or if this recent success is but another flash of untenable upside.

Deployment options

Despite Lavoie’s production varying wildly, the offensive tools have never been in doubt. The biggest reason for this most recent upswing is due to Lavoie’s play without the puck. Seemingly at odds with each other, stronger defensive play correlates with more opportunities for Lavoie to leverage his offensive skill set. More than anything, this defensive effort is the fulcrum for whether Lavoie is able to assert himself as an NHLer. A strong defensive performance will earn Lavoie more minutes alongside better players, a cascading chain reaction of positivity. Even making the Oilers begins with a willingness and effectiveness from Lavoie in this respect.

Of course, earning any minutes alongside the Oilers top forwards, most of all Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, would see the potential for Lavoie’s offensive production to skyrocket. Stylistically, McDavid and Draisaitl’s playmaking talents would open up a lot of shooting opportunities for Lavoie. In concept, a partnership with Draisaitl might be most fruitful, given that Lavoie can contribute in carrying the puck through the neutral zone with speed. Within this usage, it isn’t impossible that Lavoie finishes as high as third to seventh in goals among Oilers, behind McDavid and Draisaitl, as well as Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Evan Bouchard.

The Oilers current front office does seem to value the traits that Lavoie brings to the table in multiple respects. There has been clear trends towards the Oilers acquiring wingers that have shooting talent, as well as both ghee wingers that can bring an element of power to the ice. Perhaps other lower scoring forwards will have a greater overall impact for the Oilers, such as Ryan McLeod, Dylan Holloway, and Warren Foegele, where Lavoie should provide more offence.

An interesting comparison to a player from last season’s Oilers might be Klim Kostin. Of a similar draft pedigree, Kostin was a big body with significant puck skills, though Kostin is the heavier player while Lavoie provides more offensive upside. This comparison might be most poignant when we analyse how and where Kostin was used in the lineup. Although a role in the top-six forwards outright would be ideal for Lavoie, he might still find some success in reprising the role that Kostin filled last season.

Looking ahead

Thanks to the Oilers using an uneven lineup of 11 forwards and 7 defencemen, Kostin was among players on the Oilers fourth line that saw regular action with McDavid or Draisaitl as the pair of MVPs double-shifted. If, or at least until, Lavoie earns the trust to receive regular top six deployment, he will have to take advantage of his opportunities in this role. To an extent Lavoie is in competition with Holloway in these roles, though Holloway does have the inside track as an NHLer in general, as well as more viability in a checking role, despite Lavoie having greater offensive upside.

Unfortunately, it is quite possible that Lavoie does not work his way into a regular lineup spot. As he will no longer be waiver exempt, should Lavoie fail to make the team out of camp he would be exposed for other teams on his way to the AHL.

Although there is some intriguing upside to Lavoie, there is not guarantee that another NHL team would claim him. Even on the weaker teams across the NHL, forward spots are tough to earn, and most teams will have enough trouble sending their own players through waivers.

On top of this, given Lavoie’s ups and downs through the years, his current lack of any NHL experience, as well as the large volume of players placed on waivers at the start of the season means that it is far more likely that Lavoie will be able to pass through waivers.

Predictions for the upcoming season

This comes into play because of the nature of Lavoie’s two-way contract. Lavoie could earn more than league minimum in the NHL this season, with an $874,125 cap hit, while in the AHL it is worth $70,000. This discrepancy is sure to keep Lavoie motivated, if nothing else, while showing us that Lavoie is feeling up to the task by betting on himself.

If Lavoie were sent down to start the season it would be cause for some concern, as he could be claimed by another team for nothing, but it would not be the end of the road for Lavoie. Considering the inevitability of injuries it is quite likely that we see Lavoie in some NHL games this season, one way or another. 

Although a wide variety of possible developmental paths are in play for Lavoie, he does have enough upside to be one of the bigger x-factors for the Oilers this upcoming season. Any significant steps forward for Lavoie would be a boon to the Oilers overall quality, satiating those among the Oilers fan base that are hoping for another scoring forward. Though the Oilers offensive prowess is well documented, as evidenced by some of the rumours surrounding potential acquisitions such as Travis Konecny, it can still be improved. 

The good news for Oiler fans is that the team has some potential breakout candidates in such roles, giving the forward group some upward mobility. If one or more of these players can break through, becoming a valuable NHL contributor, the Oilers will be that much better off. In all likelihood, a championship season would see two or more players authoring such breakout seasons, if only to come up big in a handful of moments throughout the 2023–24 NHL season.

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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