Alexis Lafreniere achieves rare feat in breakout Rangers season

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In some circles, Alexis Lafreniere was considered a bust before this season. Such is the pressure faced by the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Of course, the criticism had some legs to it. In his first three NHL seasons, Lafreniere topped out with 19 goals in 2021-22 and 39 points last season. Underwhelming numbers compared to some other No. 1 overall picks in recent years, like Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils or, dare we say, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid.

So, Lafreniere entered this season with an underwhelming 91 points in 216 games. But after being moved to right wing this season and getting paired with Artemi Panarin, one of the best playmakers in the sport, Lafreniere is doing something that no Rangers player has done in this century at his age.

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Alexis Lafreniere season among best for his age in Rangers history

NHL: New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Lafreniere’s 26 goals are the most by a Blueshirt in his age-22 season or younger since Mike York scored 26 goals in 1999-2000. Lafreniere is one of just 12 Rangers all-time to score at least 26 goals before their 23rd birthday. That list includes Tony Amonte, Darren Turcotte, Tomas Sandstrom, Ron Duguay, and Steve Vickers.

If Lafreniere reaches 30 goals this season, he will join a short list of just six other Rangers who have done so before turning 23.

“He’s a great player for us and he’s taken a massive step, especially this year,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said recently.

It’s not just Lafreniere’s goal scoring that’s hitting new milestones. His 54 points this season are the first time since Alex Kovalev in 1995-96 that a Ranger age 22 or younger has reached that total. For Lafreniere, the sudden rise in scoring can be attributed, in part, to his past 11 games, when he’s tallied 15 points, five of which came last Saturday. In an 8-5 win against the Arizona Coyotes, Lafreniere scored his first NHL hat trick and added two assists.

Lafreniere was named NHL Third Star of the Week for the week ending March 31, when he totaled eight points in three games, including the five-point explosion against the Coyotes.

Only three Rangers players have ever had a season when they scored at least 30 goals and tallied at least 60 points at this age. With a strong end to the season, Lafreniere has the chance to be the fourth person on that list, and the first since 1992-93, when Amonte scored 33 goals and 76 points at age 22.

Now the big question looms for a young player in his breakout season. How will Lafreniere perform in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Lafreniere has just two goals and nine points in 27 playoff games. The space that he’s seen so far this regular season may not be there when postseason begins. But a strong playoff run from the youngster could not only solidify Lafreniere’s status in the League, but ultimately bring a Stanley Cup back to New York.

Steven Pappas is a North Jersey native who works as a news anchor and reporter at WHAM-13 in Rochester,... More about Steven Pappas

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