Edmonton Oilers Prospect Profile: Olivier Rodrigue

The NHL goaltender is entering the same grouping as the NFL running Back and the MLB relief pitcher. Each position’s production is vital to overall team success, but with the randomness and irregularity of sustained success, teams have become extremely reluctant to pay for players at the positions. As a result, proper drafting and development has become paramount to fill out the depth chart at the goaltending position.

The Oilers currently have 2022–23 Calder finalist, Stuart Skinner, and Jack Campbell at the NHL level. Skinner starts the first year of a three-year extension with a $2.6M AAV this fall while Campbell begins the second year of his five-year, $25M million contract. Last year, Bakersfield’s presumptive starter was veteran pro Calvin Pickard, who will enter the final year of his two-year contract. Next on depth chart is the organization’s most promising prospect in Olivier Rodrigue.

Player profile

In 2018, then Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli moved the 71st and 133rd picks to Montreal for the 62nd pick. The pick was used on Rodrigue making the Saguenay, Quebec product the second goalie drafted and last pick of the second round. His father, Sylvain Rodrigue, was and continues to be the Oilers’ development goalie coach, which likely played a role in the selection. That doesn’t mean it was a reach, as Rodrigue was ranked as the top goalie in the draft by and NHL Central Scouting.

Rodrigue played two more seasons in junior after his draft, playing his D+1 with the Drummond Voltigeurs with a .902 SV% in 48 games followed by a .918 SV% in 39 games with the Moncton Wildcats. Rodrigue also served as the third string goalie for the Canadian World Junior team at the 2019–2020 tournament.

However, Rodrigue likely turned pro at the worst possible time. With the pandemic at it’s height, Rodrigue was forced to play in Austria’s ICEHL to begin the 2020–21 season. He started off strong before eventually settling to a 10-10 record with a .908 SV% with the Graz99ers. He was then assigned to the Condors for the remainder of the season, posting an .894 SV% in 11 games. Rodrigue also served as the taxi squad goalie for parts of the the pandemic shortened NHL season, allowing him to work with Dustin Schwartz during practices.

North American career

The 6’1″ netminder began his full time career in North America during the 2021–22 season. He split time with the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder (7–7–1, .907 SV%) and the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors (6–5–3, .886 SV%). At the end of that season, it seemed like the general consensus was that Rodrigue was a dead-end prospect that would play out the final year of his entry level contract before being unqualified.

However, Rodrigue was able to turn his game around this past season. Rodrigue had a strong training camp with Edmonton, even appearing in 30 minutes of the preseason games in Seattle, where he was only beat by an elite finish from Calder winner Matty Beniers.

Upon joining the Condors, Rodrigue only had four starts up to November 15, at which point Pickard suffered an ankle injury. It would then be Rodrigue’s net until the veteran returned on January 4, but the 23-year-old was able to handle the bulk of the work in the crease. By season’s end, Rodrigue finished tied with Pickard for ninth in AHL SV% amongst qualified goaltenders at .912. With a large portion of Rodrigue’s 29 appearances coming with Pickard out of the lineup, it presented as a huge step forward in Rodrigue’s development.

The Oilers extended Rodrigue on July 4 for one year on a two-way contract with an AAV of $775K at the NHL level, making him a restricted free agent once again next summer. Bakersfield appears set in goal, with Pickard and Rodrigue set to have more of a 1A-1B deployment this year according to Condors’ play-by-play man Ryan Holt’s last appearance on OilersNow.

Rodrigue’s development so far

According to scouting reports, Rodrigue was a quick goalie that relied on his technical base to be successful in junior. This makes sense based on his understated frame and background with a father as a professional goalie coach. The issue with these types of goaltenders as they progress is that they can rely too much on their technique, being unable to read and react to changing plays as they happen in front of them because so much of their training is structured (these can be referred to as goalie camp goalies). The other issue is that if the pace of play speeds up past the goaltender’s ability to read and skate, said netminder will never be able to get to positions quick enough to make the save.

I believe the latter is what plagued Rodrigue early in his pro career. Particularly in Moncton, he played behind some strong teams in junior in familiar environments where everything was under control, allowing him to read and react at his pace. In the minor leagues, the game is more physical, leading to more broken plays, the pace is faster and there are better shooters. This all means that the margins are even slimmer for goaltenders.

What seemed to happen to Rodrigue in his first couple seasons was that he would be late making a read, meaning he was a bit late making his skating movement to get to his new position. Being that little bit late at his size was a death sentence, so he’d get beat clean with the lack of depth that came from being late. To compensate, he would try to anticipate the play and the shots rather than reacting to them, which would lead to some of the awful looking goals he would give up.

This past season, Rodrigue seemed to be making better reads that allowed him to be on top of the play. Increased strength likely allowed for stronger pushes from less ideal situations, but not lagging behind the play allowed him to put his technical toolbox to use against shooters. Other factors that likely led to his success is that the Oilers had less defensive turnover this past year, the Condors’ coach remained the same throughout the season, and Rodrigue played at the same level straight through, allowing him to key into the reads that the system in front of him would present on a game in/game out basis.

Looking ahead

This third year pro step is similar to the one that Skinner took in the last year of his first contract, so there’s an internal example for the type of progression we can hope for from Rodrigue in the coming season. I don’t think he has the upside that Skinner had at this stage of his career, but Rodrigue’s technique first approach could allow him to be an excellent back up down the line, as that style typically needs less game reps to be successful once adapted to a system. That style also provides the team with some consistency, as those goalies aren’t usually world beaters, but give up more or less what their defensive environment gives up in terms of high danger chances.

The high upside comparable for what the Oilers could hope for Rodrigue to become would be a late stage Jonathan Bernier, who was able to be an extremely competent 1A-1B goalie, relying on his technique at his understated size. Another goalie that fits this mold would be Jaroslav Halak later in his career.

Whether Rodrigue can take the next step remains to be seen. What is definite though is that his 2022–23 season has elevated his stock as a prospect significantly, bringing a new found sense of optimism that he can eventually turn into an NHL goaltender.

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