With all the shuffling that GM Glen Sather has put the rookies through, you’d think it was because of their lack of effort or skill or both. Well, neither is true as Slats tries to mix up the lines and spark the team out of their mediocre performance. The rookies, in fact, are arguably the best ones out there half the time, as the likes of superstars Jason Arnott and Andrei Kovalenko have been caught in funks of goalless streaks extending past 20 games each. The Bulldogs are the ones that have taken advantage of the situation to make a name for themselves as Oilers. One of those rookies is hulking winger Georges Laraque. Despite only playing in 2 games, Laraque showed true grit, desire and character, playing his usual hard nosed game with a broken right foot.
The former Granby Ranger who spent three years terrorizing the QMJHL, Oiler management saw Laraque as the second coming of Sandy McCarthy and drafted him 31st overall at the 1995 Entry Draft. While his skills don’t merit him being drafted that high, Laraque’s super ferocious play made him extremely valuable to teams like Edmonton who were lacking true NHL bad boys. He racked up a scary 661 PIMs in only 173 games during three seasons in the QMJHL, while collecting an impressive 107 points to boot. Georges has spent the past year in Hamilton under the tutelage of fellow heavyweight Dennis Bonvie, learning the ins and outs of fighting, big league style, as well as sharpening his almost perfect bodychecking skills. The 6’3”, 225 lbs. Laraque could be a dominant power forward if he could upgrade his finesse skills. He has shown the ability to eventually become a true power forward and has decent offensive ability. Laraque went 14-20-34-179 in 73 games with the Dogs last season. Not exactly eye catching stats, but what impressed the Oilers was his team leading 6 power play goals. He’s a decent skater for his size, he gets to where he wants to go–if Laraque lines you up, start saying your prayers! Georges is unstoppable force with pure brute strength that enables him to be a legitimate crease monkey. His forte is obviously fighting and making his presence known everywhere on the ice. But he’s not a complete knucklehead–Laraque is a intelligent player who will rarely use his enforcing to hurt his team with a bad penalty. While he can most certainly handle himself, with was proved during preseason where he was tested by some of the league’s toughest, Laraque could have a hard time establishing himself(see LA’s Matt Johnson) because of his age(he turned 21 just this past week).
Big George will have ample time to prove himself when his foot heals as long as the Oilers continue with their lackluster play. Hopefully, he and the other rookies will start a turnaround by pushing the regulars with their enthusiasm and desire. Either way, the Oilers are more than happy to have someone like Georges Laraque in their corner.