Can Artemi Panarin unlock Alexis Lafreniere’s potential for New York Rangers?

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Jan 16, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (right) celebrates with left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett /POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the New York Rangers regular season is right around the corner, with the line combinations and defensive pairings almost fully set. One of those combinations has Alexis Lafreniere and Artemi Panarin on a line together. It’s something we have not seen much of in the past, as Lafreniere is looking to make a permanent switch to right wing.

One of the burning questions coming into this year has been the poor preseason play of Lafreniere. His extremely underwhelming performance of just one assist, three shots on goal, and a -4 rating in four exhibition games has many concerned.

With all signs point to him starting the season on the right wing, opposite Panarin, we’ll see if the playmaking magician can unlock the young forward’s true potential once and for all.

Related: Rangers’ need Alexis Lafreniere on the right wing

Artemi Panarin the key to unlocking Alexis Lafreniere’s potential?

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

After three seasons in the NHL, everyone is wondering when the former first overall pick is going to live up to the hype. Over the course of three years in the QMJHL, Lafreniere registered 1.33, 1.72, and 2.15 points per game. This made him the consensus top pick in the 2020 NHL entry draft, drawing comparisons even to Sidney Crosby. However, in his brief NHL career, he has had 0.38, 0.39, and 0.48 points per game campaigns.

A strong case can be made for the 21 year-old forward, is that he has not been given a fair chance to prove himself at the NHL level. Throughout the majority of his career, he has played on the third line with limited minutes and has seen little to no time on the power play.

Under new head coach Peter Laviolette, it seems that Lafreniere is going to get his fair chance to play top-six minutes along with time on the second power play unit. This is an opportunity that cannot be passed up by the young forward entering his fourth NHL season. After signing a 2-year contract with an AAV of roughly $2.325 million, the clock is certainly ticking. Lafreniere will need to show serious improvement if he wants to continue his tenure as a Blueshirt.

Enter Artemi Panarin, with 445 career assists in 590 games. It seems as though Panarin can set up just about anyone he plays with and this could be exactly what Lafreniere needs. Throughout his career, Panarin has played with superstars as well as middle-six forwards. He has been able to make them all produce. Names like Patrick Kane to Cam Atkinson all flourished playing alongside Panarin. And let’s not forget how good Ryan Strome was when partnered with the Breadman.

Playing with elite skilled players who can take some of the pressure off could allow Lafreniere to play freely and start to look like the young phenom who blew everyone away at the World Junior Championship in 2020.

If this is the case, then the trio of Panarin and Lafreniere centered by Filip Chytil could be an offensive juggernaut on the Rangers’ second line. Chytil is a player on an upward trajectory after career year, although we did not get to see much of him this preseason due to injury.

Laviolette believes there is another level to Lafreniere’s game that can be accessed. “Offensively there’s a pause, defensively it’s been good. I’m sure there’s a lot of guys who want to have more of an offensive impact on the game and (Lafreniere) is probably one of them,” the head coach explained.

He went on to say, “I think that will come through time, come with repetition, understanding the pace and the speed and the identity in which we want to play with.”

For Laviolette, having his players adjust to the new system as well as finding the perfect line combinations could mean an offensive explosion is waiting to happen. In a perfect world, we will Lafreniere click like with Panarin like many have before, giving everyone the breakout season that’s been long anticipated.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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