Alexis Lafreniere’s extra effort big reason for epic Stadium Series finish

NHL: Stadium Series-New York Rangers at New York Islanders
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Alexis Lafreniere is having his best season in the NHL since being drafted first overall by the New York Rangers in 2020. Certainly, it’s helped playing on a line with Vincent Trocheck and Artemi Panarin. But Lafreniere’s improved hustle and effort are playing a big part in his success, too.

In the Rangers dramatic Stadium Series overtime win over the New York Islanders, Lafreniere had two assists. The first came late in the second period, when Trocheck cut the Islanders’ lead to 4-3. His second came on Mika Zibanejad’s power-play goal that tied the game 5-5 with 1:29 left on the clock and goalie Igor Shesterkin pulled late in the third.

On the pivotal sequence, the 22-year-old’s extra efforts were key to the Blueshirts knotting it up. Seconds before the goal, Lafreniere dove to chip the puck away from an Islanders defender attempting to clear to keep the play alive. Artemi Panarin played it back to Lafreniere as he sprung back to his feet, finding Adam Fox sneaking in from the point. Fox then whipped a pass to Zibanejad, waiting with his stick loaded and ready to score.

Alexis Lafreniere extra effort noticeable

NHL: Stadium Series-New York Rangers at New York Islanders
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Lafreniere has 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 55 games. He’s on pace to score 50 points, which will top his NHL career-high of 39 set during the 2022-23 season.

Coming into this year, there was a lot of criticism regarding his play over the first three seasons of his young career. The critiques ranged from poor offseason training, to lack of speed, or the harshest one being how he was a non-factor on too many nights.

“His foot speed is lacking, the impressive hockey sense he displayed as a prospect hasn’t translated and there are too many games where you don’t notice him,” Harman Dayal of The Athletic wrote this past summer.

The talk of Lafreniere being a bust grew, despite the reality that unlike other first overall picks, he wasn’t getting the same ice-time and opportunities.

Before the season started, Lafreniere was averaging the least amount of ice time (14:25) by first overall picks between 2010-20. Considering the average ice time for the other players selected first overall is 18:17, he’ was skating about four minutes less per game than his peers.

Another issue was his lack of power-play time. Only this season is he starting to see more consistent minutes on the second unit. Lafreniere is averaging 17:21 of ice time overall in 2023-24 and it’s paying off. It’s time he’s earned by being one of the Rangers’ most noticeable players.

Lafreniere is starting to define himself as a top-six winger at the NHL level. And he showed why with some clutch play in the thrilling Stadium Series win against the Islanders.

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

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