Alexis Lafreniere could be Rangers best weapon against Panthers

Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers can beat you with speed, skill, or just plain old toughness. As they get set to open up the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday at the Garden against the nasty Florida Panthers, Alexis Lafreniere could be the greatest weapon they have in this series.

After a breakout season for the 2020 first overall pick in the NHL Draft, where he scored 28 goals and 57 points in 82 games, he’s turned it up a notch in the playoffs. Through 10 matches, Lafreniere has potted 10 points (four goals, six assists) and racked up 17 hits, basically doubling his hits per game output during the regular season.

“It’s always fun to score, but I’m just trying to play a complete game,” Lafreniere said during the Hurricanes series.

With all the talk about how hard-nosed the Panthers are, and can the Rangers deal with that physicality, Lafreniere seems to elevate his play in those type of games. Against Carolina, who are notorious for being dogged in how they attack the puck carrier in all three zones, the 22-year-old responded by scoring all four of his postseason goals in that series at even strength.

“He just keeps on getting better and better,” Chris Kreider praised on Tuesday. “You forget how young he is, and how much he means to our group… He’s so dynamic. He’s so competitive, and he’s such a presence in the room and on the ice.”

Related: Rangers ready for Game 1 battle against Panthers

Alexis Lafreniere could be Rangers best weapon

NHL: New York Rangers at Vegas Golden Knights
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Lafreniere is no overnight success. Matter of fact, for the last few years, some experts continuously hinted at him being a bust. Many seemed to disregard the fact that the Rangers made a huge jump in the draft lottery to select him, which forced the NHL to implement a new rule that no team can move more than 10 spots if they win the lottery.

The native of Quebec, joined a team that was overloaded at his natural left wing position with Kreider and Artemi Panarin. It wasn’t until this season, after the Rangers committed to playing him on the right wing in order to get him top-six ice time, that he flourished.

“There’s probably been a lot of good work before I even got here,” coach Peter Laviolette admitted on Wednesday. “He’s still very young as far as his career goes. I think there’s a lot of coaching, and work that goes into young players. You hope to see a rise in their performance, and I think it’s been there prior to this (season).

“With the development, maturity, and the opportunity to get out there with guys like Trocheck and Panarin, it’s really started to take off for him. And with that, I think comes confidence in the way he plays the game.”

That confidence seems to be hitting another gear in the playoffs, where he’s gone from a .69 points per game average during the season to an even 1 point. Of course, if the Rangers want to beat the Panthers to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, they’ll need Lafreniere to not only keep this pace, but get better.

It’s something his captain, Jacob Trouba was recently asked about and responded with admiration for what Lafreniere brings every night.

“The level of work, his attitude, how much fun he has at the rink,” Trouba stated. “He’s a special player. Obviously, he’s really shown that this year.”

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

Mentioned in this article:

More About: