When looking at the New York Rangers, Alexis Lafrenière rookie campaign best mirrors the Blueshirts’ year. From lofty expectations coming out of the bubble last season, to a slow start, and now one of the best team’s in hockey you can see similarities in the 19 year-old’s own journey.
Alexis Lafrenière and high expectations
There was a lot of hype when the New York Rangers won the NHL Draft Lottery to select Alexis Lafrenière first overall. New York in their entire history had picked first overall only once in 1965, when they selected winger André Veilleux.
In reality, that draft was about selecting unaffiliated amateur players of juniors age. Meaning teams like the Montreal Canadiens already got the pick of the litter. The NHL changed the rules a few years later, but the Blueshirts never selected that high again until 2020.
Alexis Lafrenière was born on October 11, 2001 in the town of Saint-Eustache, Canada. At an early age, he seemed to excel and looked destined to be a top draft pick in the NHL. The kid had all the makings to be an elite player in the league and has been under the microscope for years.
The term “generational talent” is sometimes overused when talking about potential first round picks but Lafreniere has a chance to be exactly that. Is he the next Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid, who knows. Yet, the Rangers have an absolute gamer that plays with an edge and lives to lead. Lafrenière was captain of the Oceanic and Team Canada which makes one think he could be the future “C” for the Blueshirts.
Expectations for Lafreniere were that he’s NHL ready and could flirt with 60 points if given adequate ice time. To be fair, in a COVID shortened season that was a lot to ask of any young player. And when we define young, we are talking about a 19 year-old kid. A kid who hasn’t seen his family once since being drafted due to COVID travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada.
Kirill Kaprizov is expected to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. He’s 24 year’s old and played three seasons with CSKA in the KHL before coming to the NHL. He also didn’t have Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider in front of him on the depth chart.
The Rangers early struggles didn’t help Lafrenière
The Rangers struggled out of the gate. Things weren’t any easier for Lafrenière, as he struggled for months trying to catch up to the league. He admitted as much early on this season, noting he hadn’t played a competitive hockey game for almost nine months. That still didn’t stop some writers to point out his struggles and infer that he may be a bust.
On February 20th, with Alexis having only one goal in 15 games TSN made comparisons to him with other first round busts like Nail Yakupov and Patrik Stefan. Not only was that unfair, it was ridiculous. Never were considerations like dealing with a pandemic, playing home and home series in the most brutal division in hockey ever properly weighed.
Through it all, Lafrenière stayed positive. He never sulked about his offensive struggles. Instead he focused on being a complete 200 foot player. Defensively responsible. A cheerleader on the bench. An absolute force of positivity no matter what.
You know, captain material.
Alexis Lafrenière now a first line winger
The Blueshirts are in playoff mode. They need to win every game from here on out to have a chance to take out the Bruins for the last spot. You would think David Quinn’s top six would be fully loaded with veterans at this point. Instead, he’s noticed Alexis’ hard work and ability to compete at the NHL level. Quinn has properly rewarded him with Chris Kreider’s spot on the top line.
Alexis Lafrenière picked up his third point in his last two games as the Rangers new first line left wing. His confidence and swagger continue to grow in a positive way per his head coach. “Last thing I would ever call this guy is lazy,” Quinn said. “He’s playing with a big time level of confidence as he should be.”
The Rangers first overall pick is really finding a groove with the team. One thing that is obvious is how positive and energetic he is. Veteran defenseman Brendan Smith had this to say per Mollie Walker, “His attitude is fantastic. It’s infectious. I think when you see somebody smiling like that, you light up a room. I love that about him. He enjoys coming to the rink, he enjoys playing hockey… I hope he never loses that no matter how many games he plays in this league.”
Lafrenière admits that this hasn’t been an easy season but is really enjoying his time. “I think I’ve always been the same,” he told the press. “I’m just happy when guys have good games, when they make great plays. Just happy to be here for sure. And with the group we have, it’s always a lot of fun.”
As for his future with his new linemates he remains humble. “I’m just trying to learn everyday, at practice, every game – I’m trying to get better,” Laffy as he’s affectionately known said. “It’s fun for me to play with Mika (Zibanejad) and [Buchnevich], two great players. Like I said, I just got to learn from them a little bit and get better every day.”
As the Rangers continue to surge in the playoff chase, Alexis Lafrenière does so in his own way. His pursuit to being one of the best players in the game started slow, but now he’s on the top line. Sky is the limit for both he and his Rangers team.
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