Alexis Lafreniere should learn from Mika Zibanejad’s similar experience as a top prospect

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
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The New York Rangers are loaded with star players that can be headline-makers with their on-ice feats on any given day. However, it’s Alexis Lafreniere that continues to be one of the most talked about players on the team.

Sadly, it’s not always for his special abilities and talent. A lot of talk regarding the soon-to-be 22 year-old (October 11), is focused on his lack of production as a former first overall pick. To date, Lafreniere has just 91 points in 216 career games which is low for a prospect of his caliber.

We’ve made the argument that he hasn’t received the same opportunities or ice time as many other first overall selections on countless occasions. Which is why anyone calling him a bust is being premature in making that assessment.

Although of late, it’s hard to argue with much of the criticisms about his play.

Examining criticism of Alexis Lafreniere

The criticism of Lafreniere’s game has been discussed by a multitude of experts and nicely encapsulated in a recent article by Harman Dayal of The Athletic.

“His foot speed is lacking, the impressive hockey sense he displayed as a prospect hasn’t translated and there are too many games where you don’t notice him,” Dayal rightfully points out.

This is certainly in stark contrast to what NHL Central Scouting wrote about the consensus first overall pick heading into the 2020 Entry Draft.

“Exceptionally smart player with top-end speed and a pull-away fear. He’s great at carrying the puck and leading rushes and executes under pressure, has great vision and anticipation. Lafreniere offers high-end puck skills and vision to create plays, has an impressive compete level every time he’s on the ice and elevates his game in pressure situations while demonstrating leadership skills.”

NHL Central Scouting Analysis

Three years after being drafted, was everyone that far off on Lafreniere? The answer is always somewhere in the middle.

A knowledgeable source made it clear to Forever Blueshirts that speed was not considered a strength of Alexis’ game. Many knew he needed to improve on keeping his feet moving more than anything else. Lafreniere still needs to work on that aspect and be more consistent if he wants to be noticeable on the ice.

So why did the Rangers take Lafreniere? They did because of his excellent shot and very good hockey sense. Along with his puck handling abilities and vision, these are things Central Scouting got right. However, it appears that the once “go-to-guy” for every team he’s ever played on before is struggling being on a roster full of established stars like Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider.

There’s also rumblings regarding his offseason training habits, which was sure to come into question after a pointless playoff series that saw the New Jersey Devils oust the Rangers in 7 games.

“A huge part of whether Lafrenière succeeds in New York is on the 21-year-old, who hasn’t shown the level of dedication to his offseason work that the Rangers would like,” writes Arthur Staple of The Athletic.

Alexis Lafreniere should change his mindset

Alexis Lafreniere
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe being the number one pick in the draft made him too overconfident coming into the NHL. Who’s really to say, but it completely falls on him to prove doubters wrong.

One player that Alexis can lean on for guidance would be Mika Zibanejad.

The Rangers #1 center was also a high draft selection (6th overall, 2011) and traded away by the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard and a second-round pick. It’s still a stunning trade in hindsight which obviously benefited the Blueshirts.

Why would a team give up on Zibanejad at the age of 22? At the time, there was certainly a financial aspect to be considered with Brassard having three years remaining and Zibanejad due a pay increase the following summer.

That still doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to make the deal, but there appeared to be frustration with Zibanejad’s game in Ottawa, similar to what Lafreniere is experiencing. It certainly played into the decision and was articulated by Sens’ general manager Pierre Dorion afterwards.

“We felt Mika has great potential down the road,” Dorion said. “We felt with Derick we were getting someone that’s more proven, a better hockey player at this point in time. Our ultimate goal is to make the playoffs again and we think Derick’s going to help us make the playoffs.”


The move to Broadway didn’t turn Mika into a superstar overnight as there were struggles over his first two seasons. However, a change in his offseason work habits led to a career highs of 30 goals and 74 points in 82 games during his third year with the Rangers (2018-19).

Something clicked and ever since then Zibanejad has gotten better hitting 41 goals in 2019-20 and and 91 points last season. This was noted by former Rangers President John Davidson before the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

“The players have the understanding on what its’s going to take to become an elite athlete,” JD stated. “The biggest example would be Mika Zibanejad, how he’s changed his career by caring more about a lot of different things. He’s a great guy. And to see him have success, it’s special.”

Now here we are with Lafreniere contending with trade speculation dating back to last season. There’s no doubt that these rumors have upset both camps, but that should be turned into motivation for Alexis for the upcoming campaign.

That’s where Lafreniere should look to the lessons learned by Zibanejad, who walked this path before him. It’s because of their relatable similarities that makes Mika best suited to help Alexis change his mindset.

Sometimes, a highly skilled player just needs something to click in their head to reach the next level. As Lafreniere enters his fourth season in the league, it’s time for him breakthrough and be the star everyone expects.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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