In a salary cap world of the NHL, especially where the team you’re on is tight to the cap and in full win-now mode, timing is often as crucial as skill. For young players like Raphael Lavoie, who harbors ambitions of regularly wearing the jersey of the Edmonton Oilers during the 2023-24 regular season, the timing couldn’t be more challenging.
As Allan Mitchell of the Athletic astutely points out regarding the timing of Lavoie’s quest to make the roster: “It’s the poorest since Linus Omark landed in North America just in time to battle Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle for playing time among rookie wingers.” In other words, the Oilers are deep, and as talented as Lavoie is, he’s fighting an uphill battle.
Mitchell adds that the Oilers may see him as more of a trade asset than an on-ice one. He explains:
Management has the club close to winning the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history if things break right. One of the key moments will be the trade deadline and having assets that have enough value to move the needle is a major issue. Lavoie is among the top prospects in the organization and posted a 25-goal season with the Condors in 2022-23.
source – ‘Lowetide: Oilers reaching critical pressure point with prospect Raphael Lavoie’ – Allan Mitchell – The Athletic – 09/29/2023
Lavoie Needs to Redefine His Game
One of the first obstacles Lavoie faces is the Oilers’ reduced roster size. With the team having little choice but to run with 21 players this season, competition at forward is cutthroat. To avoid a demotion, Lavoie must emerge as a valuable asset among the bottom six, a demanding endeavor not only because he’s a skilled player used to playing top-six minutes, but it requires a real shift in his approach to the game.
To his credit, Lavoie has acknowledged his need to try. Understanding that he’ll need to redefine his game to make this team, he gets that top-six position with the Oilers is not in the cards. Instead, he has focused on enhancing his value as a depth player. His pre-season performances reveal a player determined to contribute defensively, showcasing reliability and trustworthiness on the ice—a quality vital for bottom-six forwards.
He noted, “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to play in the NHL.” Understanding he’s not the first offensively skilled player to go through this, he added, “You know, I’m not the only guy that had to adapt his game to get to the next level. So that’s just what I’m trying to do. Trying to stay here as long as possible.”
Lavoie Needs to Convince the Coaching Staff
However, the challenge extends beyond adapting his game; Lavoie must impress the coaching staff during the early season matches. Robin Brownlee suggests maximizing his opportunities in key pre-season games, playing him often, and facing formidable opponents to assess his potential against higher-caliber line-ups. That begins on Friday as Lavoie will get a prominent role against a fairly loaded Calgary Flames lineup.
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And, it’s not just the opposition he’s up against. Internally, it almost seems like he’s the underdog in a battle against more seasoned veterans. As speculation swirls around Brandon Sutter’s camp performance, Lavoie’s spotlight intensifies, making each pre-season game a pivotal audition for his NHL dream.
What If Lavoie Doesn’t Make the Oilers?
Lavoie’s fate is precarious. The Oilers, aiming for a Stanley Cup, are wary of compromising their depth. While Lavoie’s potential is promising, the team might explore options to bolster their roster further, leaving him vulnerable to demotion or potential waiver claims. And, if he performs well in pre-season, there’s a chance he could get claimed. If the team ultimately wants to trade him, should they take the risk of losing him for nothing?
“I’ve been with this organization for a while now, and I’m going to try to stay here,” he said. “I’ll try my best, and if it doesn’t work out then we’ll go through waivers and we’ll see what happens.” His commitment is palpable, but he knows the situation is complex.
The coming weeks will test his mettle, determining whether he secures a coveted spot in the Oilers’ lineup or faces an uncertain future. As the pre-season unfolds, Lavoie’s journey becomes a focal point for the final few games. There’ll be some cuts after Friday’s contest and it will be intriguing to see if Lavoie is among them. If he is, it’s probably because this team just doesn’t have room on the roster, and can’t afford to take risks when they have other plans for him.