True power forwards are a rare breed in the modern NHL. The league is dominated by speedy forwards who use their skating abilities to bolster their team’s transition and transform defence into offence quickly with the objective to beat the other team’s shutdown defensive structure.
But, every year organizations put a few names on their draft boards in hopes that those prospects could use their size effectively in the new NHL environment, as they are not only rangy and powerful, but also mobile.
Birthplace: Montreal, PQ, Canada
Weight: 198 lbs.
Team: Halifax Mooseheads
Raphael Lavoie is one of those names. At 6’4” and 198 pounds, the right-handed shot immediately stands out when he lines up for a faceoff. He towers over opponents and teammates alike and looks like a veteran NHL player who could have escaped to relive some of his Junior days.
More than his size, what makes the prospect exciting is that he is a deceptively good skater. Lavoie has no problem catching up, or even getting ahead of the play. He doesn’t have the fast-twitching legs of his smaller, speedy counterparts, but instead traverses the neutral zone in a few long and powerful strides. Lavoie’s size would be intimidating on its own for defencemen, but having the 6’4’’ forward driving fast and directly at them makes most of them think twice about standing up at the blue line to stop him.
The Halifax Mooseheads’ right-winger also has good balance. He looks to have matured physically and is solid on his skates; if he turns to protect the puck, it’s possible to attempt a pokecheck against him, but knocking him off of possession is not an easy task.
That said, painting Lavoie as a grinding, puck-possession force wouldn’t be exact. His size is a useful tool for him — he will drive the net and have a presence along the boards — but he doesn’t look for physical confrontations as much as he could. He mixes more of a finesse game in his shifts, preferring to escape the tight quarters to find the open ice and use of the his tool set there.
Lavoie is a skilled handler, which can make him dangerous when he attacks inside the dots. He shuffles the puck close to his body or extends his range to make defenders miss, and once he does get inside the defence, he can drop his weight on his stick and fire hard and accurately.
Watch Lavoie receive the puck in the neutral zone in the sequence below. He first uses his body to protect the puck against a back-checker, and then his long range to keep it out of reach of a second. Just seconds later, he wins his battle in the corner of the offensive zone, gets off the boards with possession and, seeing he has space to attack the slot, skates and fires the puck on net.
Raphael Lavoie wears #50 with the Halifax Mooseheads
Lavoie now has two 30-goal seasons with the Mooseheads, a testament to his shot, which he can use effectively in the slot, but also further from it. The power of the release making up for the increased distance.
A great complement to his offensive game is his play away from the puck. He breaks up many plays in the neutral zone with his range, and positions himself soundly in the defensive zone when the opposing team manages to install their cycle. He is attentive, doesn’t often get baited by opponents, and is patient on the breakout to support his teammates.
But, despite Lavoie’s tool set: his size, wingspan, skating that rivals many smaller players, and his capabilities at handling the puck, he remains a divisive prospect of the 2019 class.
The main concerns are related to decision-making, and even offensive instincts. Considering how he is physically set up to dominate, Lavoie could have more vision and make better plays in possession.
There is the occasional glimpse of something more, but during most games, the forward doesn’t show a lot of creativity or an ability move defenders out of position to open up space for himself. He takes what the defence gives him and can make some play this way, but in the tighter checking of the NHL, only being able to exploit and not make defensive mistakes happen will limit his offensive impact.
Instead of approaching defenders at an angle and looking to change speed on them, Lavoie sometimes slows down to attack head-on to try and get inside the stick and skates of the opponent. There are times when doesn’t look before passing, relying on the possibility that a teammate could be there, but ends up dead-ending the play. These are small indicators that he still needs more patience and coaching to push his offensive game to the next level.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: #11
Hockey Prospect: #27
ISS Hockey: #12
NHL Central Scouting: #13 (NA Skaters)
The lack of progression in his production is also reflective of his current weaknesses. In 2017-18, Lavoie put up 63 points in 68 games. This year, he only increased his totals to 73 points in 62 games. It is still a jump from 0.93 points-per-game to 1.18, but not a significant one considering his age.
Born September 25, 2000, Lavoie is one of the oldest players in the draft. His draft year is his third season in junior hockey, compared to many of his peers who are only in their second season in this pivotal moment of their career. Lavoie was expected to dominate more than he did, especially considering that he is playing against a lot of younger players who stand at least a few inches below him.
That said, his current performance in the QMJHL playoffs, where he is putting up closer to two points per game and helping lead Halifax towards a championship and the Memorial Cup, will reassure some scouts.
It’s improbable that Lavoie will fall out of the first round now. He might not be the projected top 10- or 15-pick he was at the start of the year, but he should be a good pick up for a team towards the end of the primarily selection.
Due to his combination of effective skating and build, Lavoie should play in the NHL. His ceiling will depend on the development staff of the team he ends up with. A good one, who makes good use of skill, could help him unlock his offensive potential and turn him into the two-way threat he could be, featuring in a team’s top-6 and special teams.