Maxime Lacroix, an unsigned draft pick of the Washington Capitals, has had an impressive rookie pro year in the ECHL. He’s seventh in the league in goals with 31, and 20th in the league in points with 60.
Lacroix was passed over in the 2005 draft, taken in 2006, so he’s used to things not being handed to him. But the 21-year-old has now put himself in a position of being a sought-after free agent this summer. The 6’0 Lacroix has only underlined his NHL potential.
"He came to us at the start of the year as a good two-way guy and he’s gotten stronger in all areas of his game," South Carolina Stingrays head coach and general manager Jared Bednar said. "I think he can definitely play [in the AHL], I don’t know exactly where his fit’s going to be next year, but I would see him playing in the American Hockey League someplace."
Scoring at just over a point-per-game pace in the ECHL, that’s a rate above what he did with his hometown QMJHL Quebec Remparts. A lot of the increase is due to a change in role, which came about early. Bednar saw Lacroix playing with Travis Morin at Washington and Hershey camp and the two seemed to have some chemistry. So he kept them together all year on the Stingrays’ top line, with good results.
"He’s very strong defensively, he’s strong on the walls," Bednar said of Lacroix. "You have to be put in a situation to score goals. With us, he scored early, so he’s continued to be put in offensive positions where he’s put up good numbers. And playing with Travis Morin doesn’t hurt."
Hockey’s Future spoke to the personable Lacroix after a 6-1 win over the Gwinnett Gladiators on Friday.
HF: You signed a one-year deal with Hershey this year, did you do that with an understanding with Washington that if you did well they would sign you?
ML: Yeah, exactly. Last year I went there for the playoffs and played two games. Washington wasn’t sure if they wanted to sign me because they didn’t have many contracts left. But Hershey wanted to sign me so they signed me for one year. At first I wanted to sign for two years in case injuries happened — you never know — but now I’m pretty happy I signed only one year because I had a good year and I have to sign a contract this summer. I know Hershey has a lot of guys. I’m getting … not stuck here, but it’s pretty hard to go up, they’ve got so many guys. So maybe it would be easier to go up in another organization. But we’ll see, I don’t think about it — do well in the playoff and we’ll see after that.
HF: Are you going to listen to offers from all teams first and then decide if you want to stay with Washington?
ML: Washington is the team that drafted me. I know all the guys, I like everyone, I like the system, I like the coaches. For sure I would like to stay with them. But I have to think further for my career. Maybe it would be better if I went somewhere else. It depends on what they offer me. If they offer me a one-year deal with Hershey, the same thing, maybe I would sign somewhere else because I would probably get the same offer somewhere else and have more chance to go up. If I can get an NHL contract, that would be awesome. I don’t know what I’m going to do — I’m going to look at the offers first. I want to be patient — we want to do well in the playoffs. If I do well in the playoffs it’s going to help me.
HF: Washington’s depth at forward seems like a big factor for you.
ML: I think it’s a good thing that I came down here this year. I’m playing power play, PK. I’ve always been a defensive forward, that’s what I got drafted for. But this year I got 60 points, 30 goals. It’s good for me, now the scouts and everyone will say ‘he can score goals too and be good defensively.’
HF: Do you think every night when you go on the ice that someone could be watching from an NHL team?
ML: Yeah for sure. They can be watching any time. Even here (in Gwinnett) maybe Chicago is watching. Our coach is making reports to Hershey and Washington all the time. You have to go hard every night. Sometimes it’s hard, like three in threes like this. We’ll get home at maybe 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. You have to work your ass off every day.
HF: Some guys get to this league and slack off because they think they’ve been forgotten. But you can’t do that.
ML: Yeah, especially when you’re young like me. I’m only 21. There’s a lot of guys here who are 27, 28, in the last stretch of their careers. You can’t do what they do — sometimes they don’t work out outside of the rink, they go out every night. You can’t do that. You have to stay focused and work hard every day. Be positive all the time.
HF: It’s remarkable that you’re scoring more in pro than you did in junior. How did that happen?
ML: The way I was playing in junior, I was focused on my defensive play. I’ve played with so many good players, like (Alexander) Radulov, who was in Nashville, (Josh) Hennessy, who was in Binghamton, I just had to give them the puck and be smart defensively. I was playing more on the third line because we had so many big names in Quebec. I was a third line guy pretty much my whole time in junior. That’s why I didn’t score that many goals. Some guys score 50 goals, but they end up -10. They score a lot but get scored on a lot too. That’s not my game. I have always been smart defensively and then we’ll see after. The way we played in junior — my coach was Patrick Roy so it was a pretty defensive system too — it helped me a lot when I got here, it was pretty much the same. It was pretty easy to adapt.
HF: You guys have a lot of talent too.
ML: (laughs) It helps. Playing with good players helps a lot.
HF: When you did get to play in Hershey this year, how did you think it went?
ML: It didn’t go badly, it went pretty well, but it’s such a different role. I got out there on the fourth line and you’ve got to work hard, get the puck deep, forecheck. I’ve been used to playing with the puck and handling the puck here. It’s a lot different. But I did my job. Nothing fancy, nothing extraordinary.
HF: Did you accomplish everything personally that you wanted to this year?
ML: You always want to do more. I would like to be in Hershey, I would like to be in the American league. But still, I think what I did down here is pretty good. I have to stay confident, stay positive, it’s going to come. I’ve been working hard all year, working out, getting better, getting in shape, getting stronger.
HF: What do you think you improved on the most this year?
ML: I think it’s patience with the puck. At the beginning of the year I was like ‘Get the puck, move it, get the puck, move it.’ But sometimes here you have more time than you think. That’s a big part of the game that I’ve changed a lot. I move the puck better now because I take more time to look at the options.
HF: Now to some guys eligible for the draft this year that you played iwth. David Gilbert, what can you tell us about him?
ML: David used to be a very good goal scorer, I think this year he didn’t have as many goals but it’s a very good team. It’s the same thing — he probably got stuck on the third line. He’s a power play guy and probably didn’t get much time on the power play. Still, a very good hockey player.
HF: Good teammate?
ML: Yeah, a pretty good teammate. I just played with him for a couple months because he got traded at Christmas.
HF: How about John Audy-Marchessault?
ML: He’s a little guy, but he’s got a lot of talent. Can skate fast, can see the ice, great shooter too. His size may be against him, but he plays pretty big for a little guy. Works hard and goes in the corners, isn’t scared of anything.
HF: And Mikael Tam?
ML: He’s not a big defenseman, not that tall, but he’s strong — good body type. He’s good on the corners, good first pass. When he plays simple, doesn’t try to do too much, he’s pretty good. I will wish them good luck for the draft, they’re all pretty good guys.
HF: Are you friends with anyone in particular who’s going to be drafted this year?
ML: Marchessault lives probably three streets from my house. I used to play pond hockey with him. I went to high school with him so I’m pretty close with him.
HF: Is there anyone else from your area who’s eligible?
ML: Alex Chiasson, he plays in Des Moines. He’s pretty good. Taller, good skills. I don’t know if he works that hard (laughs), but I know he wants to get better all the time.
HF: During the warm-up tonight, you guys were all over at the bench laughing? What was so funny?
ML: We’re just having fun. We’ve had a good stretch going. I think it’s our 10th straight win or something like that. We haven’t lost in the last 12. Everybody’s happy, we’re having fun. I think we were talking about the guy who’s injured, (Michael) Dubuc. He was only doing the warm-up. We were making fun of him skating hard because he knows he wasn’t playing. ‘You have to work hard in the warm-up.’ It’s good to be positive. We’re having fun but we’re still focused on what we have to do.You have to have fun. When you play with a smile on your face, it gets so much easier. Everything goes well.