The Halifax Mooseheads have only been a part of the CHL since 1994, but in that 25-year span, they’ve quickly become one of the premiere junior hockey programs in Canada. The Mooseheads have produced 11 first round picks in their history, and look poised to produce another this June in Raphael Lavoie.
After a slow start to the 2018-19 season, Lavoie has thrust himself back into the conversation as a top-15 pick with an absurd 20-goal, 32-point performance in just 23 games in the QMJHL playoffs. While there are a couple of red flags that come up in his cohort-based statistical profile, Lavoie has all the tools to become a legitimate power forward at the NHL level.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / September 25, 2000
- Birthplace: Montreal, QC, Canada
- Frame: 6-feet-4 inches / 198 pounds
- Position: Centre/Right Wing
- Handedness: Right
- Draft Year Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
- QMJHL Best Professional Prospect (Mike Bossy Trophy)
- QMJHL Playoffs Most Goals (20)
2018-19 Stat Rundown
|GP||G||A||P||INV%||5v5 Pr INV%||5v5 ePr60||SEAL||Sh/GP||Sh%||5v5 eTOI||GF%||GF%rel||GD60 rel||XLS%||Top XLS%||XPR|
Raphael Lavoie is the rare player that truly fits the profile of a power forward, using his size and speed to create space and win puck battles (with more than one player at a time, in some instances).
For someone who has been lauded for his power game as frequently as Lavoie has, he doesn’t engage physically with other players as frequently as you might expect. He’s certainly capable of bringing an edge to his game, but more often than not he prefers to use his speed, reach, and frame to protect the puck and keep opponents to the outside.
Lavoie is a strong skater in the most literal sense of the term. His lanky 6-foot-4 frame allows him to take long strides that get him across the ice quickly even though he doesn’t share the natural foot speed of some of his smaller peers. Improving his acceleration would make him a more dangerous player in transition and improve his defensive play, which can be lackadaisical at times.
In open space, Lavoie is almost impossible to contain. In this sequence in 3-on-3 overtime, Lavoie showcases his excellent balance and lateral movement, circling back around the net, whistling by two defenders and cutting to middle to unleash a deadly wrist shot and win the game for the Mooseheads:
— Halifax Mooseheads (@HFXMooseheads) February 22, 2018
That Lavoie isn’t reliant on pure brute force to wreak havoc in the offensive zone is an especially good sign for his chances of succeeding at the next level; he’s also shown he is capable of skating through opponents when he needs to.
Oh my goodness Raphael Lavoie 😱
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) May 20, 2019
While the extent to which players are “clutch” is generally overstated, if any prospect earned that label this season, it was Lavoie. He was absolutely dominant for the Mooseheads in the playoffs, finishing off the postseason with a whopping 0.87 goals per game average. Obviously, it will be up to the organization that selects him to determine whether his actual skill level is closer to the player he was at the start of his season, or the one we saw in the playoffs.
While Lavoie has earned plaudits from some scouts for his playmaking, I thought his passing ability was underutilized this season. He certainly has the vision to be a strong playmaker, and he can make passes in tight space, but I’d like to see him take advantage of his skills more frequently if he wants them to translate to the next level.
As dominant as Lavoie appeared at times this season for the Mooseheads, this was not entirely reflected in the data. In fact, when looking at how Lavoie fares through the eyes of the prospect Graduation Probablities System (pGPS), Lavoie’s season looks a little underwhelming. Lavoie carries a 21% expected likelihood of success and an 8% expected likelihood of impact according to pGPS. Respectable numbers, to be sure, but somewhat disappointing for a player who came into the season with so much hype.
At the high end of Lavoie’s cohort, we have players like Simon Gagne, Eric Daze, Radim Vrbata, and Antoine Vermette. At the low end, we have a number of fringe and depth forwards, as well as 50-odd players who never made the jump to the NHL at all.
Lavoie has one of the earliest birthdays in this draft class, missing the cutoff for the 2018 draft by just ten days. This is a big part of the reason why some scouts have considered his development underwhelming despite putting up back-to-back 30+ goal seasons. While Lavoie likely has less room to develop than some of his peers, he’s also physically much closer to being NHL-ready, and I could see him pulling full-time duty in the NHL as early as 2020-2021.
Despite his advanced age relative to the rest of his draft class, Lavoie is still the 19th best player in this class by score, era, age, and league adjusted scoring (SEAL). While Lavoie was a key cog in the Mooseheads power play this season, a whopping 24 of his goals and 17 of his primary assists came at even-strength.
This season, Lavoie generally had a positive impact on his teammates’ ability to produce offense, but his impact on their overall 5-on-5 goal share was hit-or-miss.
I would speculate this is largely due to the fact that Lavoie’s defensive game could use work, especially with regards to transitioning the puck. According to Mitch Brown’s CHL comparison project, Lavoie was in the bottom-quarter of the league in terms of controlled exits/60.
Lavoie has the puck skills to skate out with control more often, but as I said in the scouting report, improving his first few steps is the key to unlocking a superior two-way game. Lavoie is so unstoppable when he gets up to top speed because of his size that he usually elects to play dump-and-chase against smaller, weaker opponents. It’s worked well in the Q, but he’ll have to increase his comfort level carrying the puck if he wants to be the elite power forward in the NHL his tools suggest he can be.
There was a time when a player like Lavoie would have been ranked in the top ten across the board for his physical tools and performance in big games, and it’s a testament to how much the scouting community has evolved that he’s ranked somewhere in the middle of the first round this year, which is about where he belongs.
The term “high risk/high reward” is generally overused when it comes to prospects, but it applies in Lavoie’s case. He has all the tools to be a very effective power forward at the NHL level, but I’m not sure there’s enough defensive awareness or even downright nastiness in his game for him to transition into a useful player in a bottom-six role if he doesn’t hit his ceiling. The risk associated with selecting Lavoie means he’ll likely slide outside the top ten, but I’d wager there’s at least one team in the mid-to-late teens that thinks his package of speed, skill, and size is simply too enticing to pass up.
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and theqmjhl.ca.
Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Raphael Lavoie’s page here (paywall). Other clips were pulled from original broadcasts, with all rights reserved for the original broadcast companies.