It would have made sense for the Edmonton Oilers to select Raphael Lavoie with their first pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Lavoie is exactly the type of player they are looking for: an offensively dynamic winger with impressive size and a deadly release.
General manager Ken Holland ultimately chose to add to the team’s already deep prospect pool on the back end with the eighth-overall pick by selecting fleet-footed Swedish defender Philip Broberg. However, the Oilers were thrilled to find Lavoie still on the board when they picked again at 38.
“We saw he was glaring there for us this morning when we got up,” said Oilers director of player personnel Bob Green at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. “We were happy to get him. We like his size. He had a great playoff and a good Memorial Cup. He’s a big, strong kid who can score and make plays with the puck. He’s strong down low and he complements good players.”
From Call-Up to Playoff Hero
Born and raised in Chambly, Quebec, Lavoie played his midget AAA hockey at Collège Antoine-Girouard, where had 12 goals and 26 points in 42 games in 2015-16. That summer, he was selected by the Halifax Mooseheads in the second round (29th overall) of the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft. After putting up 18 points in 15 games the following season, he was recalled by the Mooseheads.
Lavoie tallied 6 goals and 9 points in 32 games as a rookie in 2016-17. He also represented his country for the first time when he was named to Canada White at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie. He had one goal and three points in six games and helped Canada White reach the bronze medal game, where they lost to Russia 6-1.
The 6-foot-4, 198-pound forward finished third on the Mooseheads in goals (30) and fourth in points (63) in 68 games in 2017-18. He also helped the team win their first playoff series since 2015. After the Mooseheads were swept in the second round of the 2018 Playoffs, Lavoie joined Team Canada at the 2018 IIHF World U18 Championship in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, Russia. He showed well with five goals in five games, despite a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.
Ranked No. 20 among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, Lavoie played for Team Cherry in the 2019 CHL Top Prospects Game in Red Deer. Last season, he finished third on the Mooseheads in goals (32), fourth in assists (41) and tied for third in points (73) in 62 games. He won the 2019 Mike Bossy Trophy as the best professional prospect in the QMJHL, becoming the sixth Mooseheads player in the past seven seasons to take home the award.
While Lavoie produced at above a point-per-game pace during the regular season, he took his game to new heights in the playoffs. He led the league in playoff goals (20) and finished second in playoff points (32) in 23 games and helped the Mooseheads reach the President’s Cup Final for the first time since 2013; they they lost to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in six games.
Lavoie followed up his outstanding playoffs with a solid showing at the 2019 Memorial Cup in Halifax. He had three points in four games, but again, Halifax lost to Rouyn-Noranda in the final.
Focused on Improving
Despite his high potential, Lavoie had a somewhat underwhelming showing at the Oilers rookie camp, and was sent back to Halifax earlier than expected. Holland and the Oilers brass were surely hoping to see his goal-scoring prowess on display against the Calgary Flames rookies, but he just couldn’t finish.
Since returning to the Mooseheads, Lavoie has two points in his first two games. He has a good chance to reach 50 goals in the QMJHL this season, but it’s as important for him to improve his game-to-game consistency. He had seven multi-goal games in 2018-19, but twice went six games without a marker.
Playing in his final season of junior eligibility, Lavoie has his sights set on cracking Team Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. The 19-year-old understands what it will take for him to make the national team this Christmas, and eventually play in the NHL.
“I want to get stronger, I want to get faster, I want to improve my skills, and I want to become a better overall player,” said Lavoie at Hockey Canada’s World Junior summer camp. “I changed my diet this summer by going on a nutrition plan. It helped me gain some weight and feel better and have more energy on a daily basis.”
Lavoie should be a top-10 player in the QMJHL this season. The Oilers need players who can put the puck in the net, and he has the potential to help them address that need one day. He will need at least one full season in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors, but Lavoie could be pushing for a roster spot in Edmonton as soon as 2021-22.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.