Alexis Lafrenière better for New York Rangers with Chytil and Blais

I’m going to come right out and say it, Alexis Lafrenière is not ready to play on the team’s top two lines.

No, it’s not because he isn’t good enough. Matter of fact, at least to these eyes, he might be deferring way too often to players like Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. As a result it appears to be diminishing his own game.

The 20 year-old sophomore has four points on the season in eight games (3G, 1A) all at even strength. Aside from the his game-winning goal in Montreal where Mika Zibanejad picked up the primary assist, the other three points game on a line with Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais.

It just seems that when he’s playing on that line, he elevates his game and becomes the proverbial “go-to-guy”. His line mates look for him, and so does Adam Fox, who has assisted on all three of his goals (one a primary helper).

Alexis Lafrenière responds to pressure

After the Rangers embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Flames on Monday, head coach Gerard Gallant called out Lafrenière for losing too many one-on-one battles. During the game, he was demoted from the first line to the third line, which became a lengthy topic of discussion for the week.

“For sure, I have to be better,” Lafrenière said. “Last game (against the Flames) wasn’t a good game for me. It was a physical game and you’ve got to be able to win your battles one on one.”

When told about the young player’s response to being singled out, Gallant was happy that he accepted accountability. The veteran bench boss also wanted it clear that he wasn’t the only player that needed to step up.

alexis lafreniere
Alexis Lafreniere to the top line (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

“I’m glad Laffy took a little responsibility,” Gallant said. “He’s not alone. I coached against the Rangers for a few years. You come in here and you say that’s a good team on paper but you’ve got to grittier. You’ve got to respond in those big games. We responded in Nashville, but last night…we’ve got to play harder.”

Last night, Lafrenière played a strong and smart game. He battled hard and was rewarded when he worked a long give and go with Fox.

The played developed in the the neutral zone, where Laffy hit Fox streaking down the right wall. He then followed the nifty defenseman to the net, accepting an incredible feed and burying it with authority past Columbus goalie, Elvis Merzlikins.

Pressure on. Response given.

Lafrenière looks more confident on the third line

Oddly enough, he played a season low 11:29 against the Jackets. That had more to do with 12 minutes dedicated to special teams play than anything else.

Last night, Gallant let the first PP unit have its way getting over 5 minutes of the available 6 minutes on the man advantage. It worked since they scored twice, and because Laffy doesn’t kill penalties his TOI was down from the usual 15 minutes per night.

Regardless, he responded which was a great sign just 64 games into his NHL career. Playing on the third line with Chytil and Blais, he seems to take command of the ice. A prime example came during the second period. That’s when he came in on a two-on-one with Chytil, and despite a clear passing lane, Lafrenière took the shot and almost beat Merzlikins high short side.

“Laffy, Blaiser, and Fil they play well together,” Gallant said. “They had a pretty good game tonight. So I think the lineup tonight was pretty good.”

There’s no doubt that he’s more productive when playing with them, and it is something we should see more of this season.

“I think he’s comfortable playing with Blaiser, he’s enjoying it down there,” Gallant admitted. “Whether he plays some up and back, I think he likes it. As long as he scores every night like he did tonight, he’ll be happy.”

Alexis Lafrenière is a great combination of skill and will. One day, maybe soon, he will be doing that on the Rangers first line. For now, let’s not fix what isn’t broken. Better yet, don’t tinker with what’s absolutely working.

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