Alexis Lafreniere must make transition to right wing for Rangers success
Alexis Lafreniere is no longer considered a kid anymore, even though he’s just 21 years-old.
Since being drafted by the New York Rangers first overall in 2020, the natural left winger has struggled to find more minutes behind Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider. Simply put, he’s been unable to get the ice time other No.1 picks receive in their careers to speed up his development.
On Wednesday, new bench boss Peter Laviolette announced that Lafreniere will open camp on right wing. It’s a transition that both sides desperately need to work out.
“I talked to [Laviolette] about right wing and that I’m comfortable playing there,” Lafreniere said. “I’m used to going on the left side to cover my defenseman. I now have to do it on the other side. I’m just hoping I can have some success there.”
Alexis Lafreniere looking forward to the opportunity
As Lafreniere enters his fourth NHL campaign, he’s amassed just 91 points in 216 games with little to no power play time. In the past, the Rangers tried to get him more minutes by switching him to the right, but former coach Gerard Gallant had very little patience for letting Alexis work on making the adjustment.
The first set of line combinations have come out of training camp on Friday with Lafreniere lining up on the right side of center Mika Zibanejad and left wing Chris Kreider. That could very well be the set up we see in an exhibition contest at some point this preseason.
Of course, nothing is set in stone as Laviolette stressed on day one.
“I had conversations with him about playing the offside and he expressed to me that he’s comfortable with that and looks forward to that opportunity,” he said. “I’m looking forward to giving it to him to see what he can do. That doesn’t mean that you’re not going to see him on the left side in camp, either.”
If Lafreniere is indeed able to make the transition, the Rangers will be much better off for it. That would mean that the franchise’s two highest picks in decades, the other being Kaapo Kakko (2nd overall, 2019), are in the top-six. Effectively bumping 37 year-old veteran free agent signing Blake Wheeler to the third-line and strengthing the top-nine.
Forever Blueshirts recently spoke with MSG Networks TV Analyst Joe Micheletti, who has watched every single game played by Lafreniere, what his thoughts were about the move.
“I think with Lafreniere, he’s at an age where he’s been around long enough and at some point, you have to look for when the next step is going to be taken,” Micheletti said. “I thought it would be last year, but he along with a group of some players took a step back in the playoffs. What the kid has shown is that he can score even strength goals with limited minutes. So that tells you something about him.”
The moment is here for Lafreniere to seize this opportunuty and if he can thrive on the right, the Rangers will be more than alright this season.