Rangers Alexis Lafreniere once again the focus of more unwarranted criticism

Alexis Lafrenière recorded a beautiful primary assist on Ryan Strome’s goal in last night’s big win over the Bruins. It was the first ever NHL helper and only the third point of his young 18 game career.

This has caused quite a few analysts and reporters to point out their cause for concern. Here’s the problem, unlike myself they haven’t watched every minute of every single one of his shifts this season. They are reacting to his goals and assists and not seeing the bigger picture.

More unwarranted criticism for Alexis Lafreniere

Yesterday’s Toronto Sun pointed out his struggles while citing David Quinn’s earlier comments about “liking the direction [Lafrenière’s] game was going,” and “being the first overall pick he has tons of pressure on him.”

Regardless, emphasis was put on his two goals and -8 rating in 17 games before Alexis picked up an assist and a +1 last night. Again, from miles away scribes are putting pen to paper with what appears to be shortsighted and incomplete information.

This article is coming just one week after TSN’s Frank Seravalli wrote:

Lafreniere is off to the worst start for a No. 1 overall pick since Patrik Stefan in the 1999-2000 season – and one of the worst of all time. Even then, Stefan had three goals and seven points in his first 15 games. Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in 2012, also made his debut in a shortened season and finished with 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games. Yakupov had five goals and nine points by this point.

I understand as hockey writers, we look for provocative comparisons in order to engage readers and spark conversations. However, why deliberately compare Lafrenière to two first overall busts? Not with so many other favorable ones available.

How about comparing to guys like Joe Thornton?

Alexis Lafreniere
Alexis Lafreniere 1st NHL goal (Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images)

In 1997, Joe Thornton was selected first overall by the Boston Bruins. You know what he did in 55 games that season? He scored a grand total of seven points. Lafrenière is already halfway there and Jumbo Joe’s career is Hall of Fame worthy.

How about 1998 first overall pick Vincent Lecavalier? Yes, he scored 28 points in 82 games that season. Nothing jaw-dropping and sure looks like more than Lafrenière will put up. If Alexis can put together a point streak his points per game could come close to Lecavalier.

*Editor’s note: removed incorrect calculations on points per game.

Let’s go a little more recent, Steven Stamkos in 2008. He had four points after his first 17 games and that came in two games back-to-back. Yeah, he turned out fine.

My point here is simple, if you are going to be selective about your negative comparisons, I can do that just as easily in a positive way.

For Lafrenière his attitude and desire to learn are better signs than points this season

If you want to talk about what makes some #1 overall picks a bust here’s a big. When a kid thinks he’s so good that there’s nothing you can teach him. Or maybe they have their heads so swollen they refused to be coached and wash out. There’s a few I can name but I’m going to stay positive here. Bottom line, that’s not Alexis.

“He’s always smiling, the game ends and he’s hooting and hollering,” Quinn said with a smile after watching his prized rookie play a great all around game. “He’s getting more confident and more comfortable. I love the fact that he wants to learn…really like the direction his game is going.”

Critics need better perspective

As good as a prospect Alexis is, he’s not at this very moment better than Artemi Panarin or Chris Kreider at LW. The 19 year-old is getting a chance now with Panarin out and looks like he’s finding his game.

Critics also need to look at this shortened season very differently to the one played in 2012-13 that Seravalli mentioned for Yakupov. In that 48 game season it was reduced due to a lockout and the Oilers played Western opponents 3 to 4 times, except the Canucks and Avalanche 5 times. No pandemic was still raging during that campaign either. It should be noted that the Oilers played the same opponent just twice that year.

This season Lafreniere is facing some of the toughest opponents in the NHL 8 times. The Capitals, Bruins, Flyers, Islanders, and Penguins are all considered contenders. The Devils are a fierce rival, and the Sabres would be the only reasonably easy team to beat.

Context matters if you are going to constantly point at Lafrenière’s stats. There’s a lot more going on here and from what I can see, and what the Rangers can see – there’s a lot to be happy about.

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