OSTRAVA, CZE - The past two seasons, Raphael Lavoie has been focused on improving his defensive game to add to his high-powered offensive skills and become a more complete player.
The 19-year-old has had the chance to show off those new-found skills while playing on Team Canada's fourth line as they go for gold at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Czech Republic.
In the past two and half seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, Lavoie, who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers 38th overall this past June, has 180 points in 160 games, including 80 goals. Plus, 20 goals and 32 points in 23 playoffs games last season. So, what's a guy with numbers like that doing on the fourth line? Team Canada assistant coach Andre Tourigny, who also coached Lavoie during his first season in Halifax as a 16-year-old, explains.
"He might be on the fourth line, but that's just a number," he said. "He's in an offensive role because he can shoot. We think Raph with his size and his hands can produce offensively. That's why he's playing on the power play and is in a spot for him to get the puck, shoot and score the big goal. We think everyone on our team can contribute to the offence, but we also want everyone to defend well and he does that too."
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As far as Lavoie is concerned, whatever he can do to help the team win a gold medal is what he's willing to do.
"First, it's an incredible honour to represent your country," he said. "I've been watching this tournament ever since I can remember, so being here and having the chance to be a part of it is something I'm very happy about.
"Second, we all want to have an offensive role here. We're all elite scorers and we all want to score goals, but we have to defend too. So some of us, like myself, have a little bit more defensive roles than we normally would and not allowing the other team to score is a good thing and if that is how we can contribute to the win, I'm ok with that. Even if we don't end up on the score sheet like we're used to."
The Quebec native is averaging 15 minutes per game at the tournament and has one assist thus far. Prior to World Juniors, he also represented Canada at the 2018 World U-18 Championship and had five goals in five games.
"One-on-one, he can beat any player and he's a good shooter," Tourigny said. "But, he's more than that. He's got great hands too and can make plays. He's got an ability to find a way to get in the right spot to shoot. He can also be physical. He's got a little edge in his game. He doesn't sit back and he's got more pushback than people give him credit for."
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He also said Lavoie's biggest asset might be his confidence.
"He's a guy that wants to be there in key moments and I think his stats in the playoffs last year in the Q - he had 20 goals - show that he's a big moment player," Tourigny explained. "He's not afraid of the pressure. He wants it. I always thought that if he was on a team with the best NHL players and there was one shot to take to win the game, he would vote for himself to take it. He believes in himself that much and believes that he can be a difference maker and he usually is."
Second to his confidence is his shot, which is probably what makes him so confident with the puck on his stick.
"It's a pretty hard, pretty heavy shot," Lavoie said. "I've been working on it a lot since I was a young kid. Broke a couple windows at my house, but it's paying off now. I've scored a lot of goals with it and I hope I can score a lot more."
Third on the list of assets would be his size. At 6-foot-4, 198 pounds, he uses his big frame to protect the puck, be a strong net-front presence, screen the goalie, win puck battles and even throw hits when necessary. But, there's still a lot he wants to work on the rest of this year and into the summer as he prepares for his first professional season.
"I want to get faster, especially my explosion and first three strides," he said. "Defensive play too. We're always working on the offensive side of the game because we all like to score goals and it's hard to practice defending on your own, but it's just as important to the game as scoring. I'd also like to get stronger and improve my physical play. I can hit, but there are days I don't think I hit enough or use my size to it's full advantage. So that's definitely something I want to work on too."
For now, his focus is on doing whatever he can to help Canada beat Finland in the semifinal round on Saturday and advance to Sunday's championship game.
"I remember John Tavares and his hat-trick [in 2009] and I remember getting chills when they scored and chills when they won. It was pretty awesome," he said. "I always wanted to be on this team and, now that I'm here, I want to win a gold medal. We have the talent for it. We have the team for it and that's why we're here.
"I didn't set any personal objectives here," Lavoie continued. "I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win and go home with a gold medal. That's the only goal."