Top 25 Under 25, #17: Maxime Lajoie

The smooth skating defenseman looks to build on a decent rookie season with the Belleville Senators

17. Maxime Lajoie (Reader Rank: 20, Last Year: 15)

Falling two spots from last year, Maxime Lajoie is the third pivot profiled so far in this year’s top 25 under 25. While still technically qualified to return to the WHL, the Senators 133rd selection from the 2016 draft spent his first full season in the AHL last year. Lajoie’s biggest strength is mobility, with and without the puck. He is often described as a smooth skating player who can turn quickly on his edges and uses his mobility to make plays. While this is true, he’ll need to improve his explosiveness and top speed to be a real impact player at the next level.

The ability to move the puck and make plays at a high speed has become crucial in developing defenseman around the league. When you hear about today’s stars, you don’t hear the big, bruising names that you may have a decade ago. You hear about the players who use their speed and skill to quickly transition the puck back up ice and away from their own net. This is Lajoie’s bread and butter.

Last season, the Senators made the intriguing decision to forego Lajoie’s final junior season to turn pro. Similar to his teammate Gabriel Gagne, Lajoie’s birthday falls at a time of year that allows him to choose between the AHL and an overage junior season.

If you just look at the scoresheets, you should still be relatively impressed by Lajoie’s rookie season in Belleville. Putting up 0.26 points per game is nothing to shake a stick at for a 20 year old defenseman on a lacklustre team. I wouldn’t pencil him into the NHL lineup with those numbers but there’s a legitimate argument to be made that Lajoie suffered from improper deployment, like many of his fellow prospects, in Belleville last season. He’s a player who’s skillset is best suited for the powerplay as his vision and aforementioned mobility make him useful at the point. His shot leaves something to be desired but he tends to get pucks through the lanes and on the net for tips or rebounds.

Peter Levi, who’s been doing excellent work tracking and reporting on the B-Sens, found that Lajoie’s two most common partners were Erik Burgdoerfer and Jordan Murray.  For those that may not follow the team that closely, this means Lajoie spent most of his time playing with an AHL veteran with little offensive upside and a forward-turned-defenseman who’s better known for questionable decision making than anything else.

Levi also found that Lajoie was fifth in powerplay usage and ranked seventh when it came to his effectiveness with the extra man. I do believe you’ll see both of these numbers increase in the coming season, provided new Belleville coach Troy Mann is more intelligent and intentional with his deployment.

Wearing #8, you’ll see two flashes of the skill that Lajoie will be working on this season in the video below. First, he makes a lob pass to centre ice that is fumbled by the receiver, Daniel Ciampini. Second, he picks the puck up and quickly moves around the defender before throwing a pass into the skates of Tyler Randell.

I have lofty expectations for Lajoie this season. He won’t be at the top of the scoring race or in the conversation for league MVP, but building on a good rookie season will be important for Lajoie’s development. In looking at skill, he should be in line for a top 4 spot. Hopefully Mann doesn’t take after his predecessor and bury him behind AHL veterans who have little to no chance of having a future impact at the NHL level.

Lajoie’s drop in our rankings is likely due to what we feel is a relatively strong 2018 draft and perhaps some honeymoon feelings towards a few shiny new blueliners.

I can’t help but wonder... if Lajoie had just won the WHL championship as the #1 D and possibly captain of the Swift Current Broncos instead of spending a season buried on a bad Belleville team, would his ranking on this list be higher?

Let us know what you think in the comments!

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