HALIFAX – Eric Veilleux has seen some good hockey players over his coaching career, but maybe none as good as Raphael Lavoie.
“He’s probably one of the best players I had a chance to coach,” the Halifax Mooseheads bench boss says. “Best prospect anyways for sure.”
Lavoie is an 18-year-old right winger eligible for this year’s NHL Draft, which begins on June 21 in Vancouver.
Gifted with great size – six-foot-four and 198 pounds – Lavoie also has intriguing hands and skill. It has made him an interesting target for teams at the draft.
He was ranked 13th by NHL Central Scouting at the midterm rankings for North American skaters, but slipped to 20th in the final edition. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino had Lavoie slated at 20th overall in his May rankings.
The rankings are hard to escape, Lavoie says.
“Well, quite frankly, when they get posted, I look at them for sure,” he says from the Memorial Cup. “People talk to me about it. But I try not to focus on it. Playing my game is a lot more important for me.”
Lavoie helped the host Mooseheads reach the Canadian major junior championship game where Halifax lost to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. He had two highlight-reel goals in the tournament – including one in the final – and an assist along with 17 shots on goal over four games.
His physical play was prevalent throughout the tournament as he used his big frame to create a good cycle in the corner and set up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
He says he’s at his best when he has the puck and is creating offensive chances.
“I think I’m pretty good when I’m doing that.”
Lavoie was streaky during his draft year and finished the regular season with 32 goals and 41 assists in 62 games.
But when it came to the playoffs, the right-handed shot picked up his game.
He finished atop the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 20 playoff goals and was second in league scoring with 32 points. Lavoie recorded three-straight two-goal games against Moncton in the second round and added a hat trick in one game against Drummondville in Round 3.
Veilleux says Lavoie has become a more well-rounded player over the past year — his second full season in the QMJHL.
“He’s added, I think, some pretty good prime to his game throughout the season to make him, obviously, a more complete player, which is probably what teams were wondering if he could play that way and he’s developed as a very solid, complete player,” Veilleux says.
Lavoie is yet another product of Chambly, Que., which has developed some solid talent over the past few years.
He’s friends with goaltender Zachary Bouthillier, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs while brothers Pierre-Olivier (Arizona) and Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay) also hail from the city 25 kilometres southeast of Montreal.
Lavoie is also the latest top prospect to come out of the Mooseheads organization. Halifax has produced top NHL talent such as Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Nikolaj Ehlers and Timo Meier to name a few.
Antoine Morand, who captained this year’s Mooseheads team and is an Anaheim Ducks prospect, was one of the players Lavoie relied on this season for advice.
“They have experienced it before me so it’s good,” Lavoie says. “They let me know what they know.”
Linemate Samuel Asselin says his job during the season was to help relieve some of the pressure Lavoie faced with jokes and light-hearted conversation.
On the ice, Asselin says Lavoie’s long reach and lethal stick lifts make him tough to play against.
“I think he really, really improved his game during the playoff run and since then he’s just so good for us,” Asselin says.
Lavoie played for Canada at the 2018 world under-18 championships and scored five goals in five games.
Veilleux says the forward has the ability to play on the top two lines of an NHL team one day, but adds there’s room to improve and add size.
Lavoie’s goal is to continue to grow and get better.
“Whenever I get stronger and bigger I’ll be better in every aspect of my game,” he says. “I’ll skate faster, I can shoot harder, I can hit harder, I can be more strong and be a better player overall.”