Alexis Lafreniere needs to find another gear in 2023-24

It’s never smart to call a player a bust so early in their career but when it comes to New York Rangers first overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere, the word bust has been associated with his name far too often.

With 91 points in 216 games played through three seasons and no new contract yet, it’s a genuine cause for Ranger fans to be concerned with the 21 year-olds future with the organization.

“Yes, I spoke with Chris [Drury], our general manager,” he said to Le Journal de Montreal. “I know the negotiations are going well. I remain confident.”

For Lafreniere the upcoming 2023-24 season might be the biggest one in his young career. As we await for the RFA to sign his expected bridge deal, a breakout campaign will go a very long way. It would show that the Rangers can develop high-end picks and Lafreniere can award himself with a long term contract after this next one expires.

However, another disappointing and underperforming season may see the Quebec native shipped off in a trade with a return not equal the value of a number one overall draft pick.

The latter outcome is one that the organization and fans don’t want to see. So what needs to change for Lafreniere to be a key contributor for this club this season?

Alexis Lafreniere needs a to find a new gear

Alexis Lafreniere
Jan 3, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) celebrates his goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

It has been well documented that Lafreniere is not the most fleet of foot on the ice, and it has certainly led to his lack of production in the league. If you look at the top 10 scorers in the NHL from a season ago, one thing they all have in common is they are not just quick on their feet, but they know where the open ice is going to be.

Lafreniere has no trouble going to the hard areas. During the 2022-23 season, all 16 of his goals came from at or below the hash marks, with seven of them coming just outside the goal crease. If you stretch that sample size over two seasons, 33 of his 35 goals have come from that area.

This shows that he has been unable to find success beating goaltenders at the NHL level and is cause for some major concern if that trend continues this season.

An adjustment that could go a long way towards Laf’s game is just shooting the puck more. His shot totals have gone up every year that he has been in the league, but it is simply not enough to sustain any sort of success. His 135 shots a season ago ranked 8th on the team, with a career low shooting percentage.

That simple fix may be part of a deeper rooted issue that was discussed earlier. Lafreniere’s inability to skate at a high level is causing him to miss out on scoring opportunities off the rush. If this is a part of his game that physically can’t be developed past where it is at now, the next best alternative is being able to be smart off the puck and create separation from defenders. This doesn’t take a ton of speed to accomplish.

One of the best single examples of this occurred during Game One of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. With Kappo Kakko handling the puck behind the net, Filip Chytil found himself in a battle with Erik Cernak. Instead of battling for positioning, Chytil takes a stride backwards, opening himself up for a Kakko pass that ends up in the back of the net before you can blink. It’s plays like this that Lafreniere needs to add more of to his repertoire if he cannot beat defenders with speed, because he has shown excellent shooting ability in flashes.

While there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the future of Alexis Lafreniere with the New York Rangers, there’s still time to improve the situation. Although if he’s not able to show that he belongs in the team’s top six, which he has not to this point, it may be time to move on from the number one overall pick next summer.

That’s a crossroads neither party would like to reach.