With the 2019-20 regular season getting closer, there are already many eyes looking ahead to the extremely talented 2020 NHL Entry Draft. While it’s still a full season away, Rimouski Océanic’s Alexis Lafrenière looks to be the unanimous number one pick.
As he enters the most important season ahead of his NHL career, Lafrenière looks poised to have a big season. He already has numerous accolades to his name, but it’s safe to say that list will grow this season.
It’s not too early to start getting excited about this prospect. Let’s take a look at what he’s done so far before we dive into what you can expect to see this season. Looking at his past will leave you impressed, but there will be more to come from Lafrenière.
Lafrenière’s Career So Far
Coming into the QMJHL, there were big hopes for Lafrenière. He was coming off a 33-goal, 83-point season in the QMAAA with the Saint-Eustache Vikings and was drafted first overall in the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft to the Océanic.
He didn’t disappoint in that first season, playing 60 games and putting up an impressive 42 goals and 80 points. He contributed another four goals and seven points in seven playoff games. His performance was enough to win CHL Rookie of the Year, QMJHL Rookie of the Year, and QMJHL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was also named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team and First All-Star Team.
His success in that first year didn’t stop there. Internationally, Lafrenière started to make his mark. He participated in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, scoring three goals and six points. He was named to the All-Star team in the tournament and helped Canada win a silver medal. He also in the U18 World Junior Championship, collecting four goals and six points in five games.
The 2018-19 season only got better for Lafrenière. Back in Rimouski, the Saint-Eustache native was given an “A” on his jersey and raised the bar. He scored less – still 37 goals – but put up 68 assists and 105 points. He helped lead Océanic on a deeper playoff run too, adding nine goals and 23 points in 13 games. He was named CHL Player of the Year, QMJHL Most Valuable Player, QMJHL Personality of the Year, and was named to the First All-Star Team, once again.
Internationally, Lafrenière continued to show his growth. He participated in the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, another under-18 tournament, and was named team captain. At 16-years-old, he scored five goals and 11 points in the tournament, helping Canada to the gold medal. His points led the tournament, tied with Russia’s Vasili Podkolzin. He then laced up for the U20 World Junior Championship, collecting one goal in five games, but not playing a large role. That will likely change this year.
Lafrenière & Rimouski Océanic Outlook
After three straight seasons of losing in the first round of the playoffs, Océanic had a solid run in 2018-19, making it to the third round before being swept by the eventual QMJHL and Memorial Cup champions, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. They have one of the best goaltenders in the league in recently-drafted Colten Ellis (93rd-overall in 2019 by the St. Louis Blues), who should also take a big step forward this season. Expect another big push from Rimouski in 2019-20.
With Lafrenière entering his third and likely final year with the club, he’ll be looking for a championship. He’ll also be looking to best his 105 point season. But just how high can he go? It wouldn’t be hard to see him at least match his improvement from 2017-18 to 2018-19 (25 points), which would put him at 130. Could he go higher?
The QMJHL single-season record is still Mario Lemieux’s 282-point season in 1983-84 – don’t expect that from the 2020 draft-eligible player. More recently, Sidney Crosby, Océanic’s last first-overall pick before Lafrenière, had 66 goals and 168 points. That would need the current Rimouski star to nearly double his goal totals. This is likely still too much to ask for, but we’re getting closer.
In the last 10 seasons of the QMJHL, Moncton Wildcats’ player Conor Garland has the top-two point finishes in the league. In 2014-15, he put up 35 goals and 129 points, following that up with 39 goals and 128 points. I’d expect Lafrenière to top those totals this season. He already has a 42-goal season under his belt, and his assist numbers appear to be on the rise. He should finish with over 40 goals and in the 130-140 point range this season.
If he can do that, Lafrenière would pass a number of recent stars to be drafted from the QMJHL. Even 2013 first-overall pick Nathan Mackinnon only finished with 78- and 75-point seasons. Nico Hischier, the last number-one pick from the QMJHL back in 2017, finished with 38 goals and 86 points in his lone season with the Halifax Mooseheads.
The mark of 120 points has only been crossed four times in the last decade, with 130 points untouched since 2005-06 when Alexander Radulov had 61 goals and 152 points. Expect Lafrenière to cross both the 120- and 130-point plateaus this season and earn himself some more individual hardware to add to the ever-growing list.
Lafrenière Should Impress Internationally
On the international stage, Lafrenière looks to have a busy year. He was too old for the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, so he skated in the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase against some of the top 2019 draft prospects. He held his own against the older players, collecting two assists in his two games played.
For the rest of the season, there will be some big events that should see Lafrenière shine. Next up is the 2020 U20 World Junior Championship that kicks off Dec. 26. He will be looked to take a bigger role at this year’s tournament, building on the one point he got in the 2019 event. He should be a prominent figure of the team’s offence and look to bring a gold medal to Canada.
By the time spring comes, it could get interesting for the left-winger. If Océanic is still in the thick of the playoff race, that is of course where Lafrenière will be. The Memorial Cup will be taking place May 22-31, and there’s no question that’s where the prospect wants to be.
If they see an early playoff exit, we could see the potential number-one pick take the Jack Hughes route – playing in both the U18’s and men’s World Championships. The U18’s take place April 16-26 and the men’s tournament takes place right after, May 8-24. Either way, Lafrenière should be playing hockey deep into May.
On top of these tournaments, the star forward will be on display in the 2019 CIBC Canada/Russia Series Nov. 4 to 14 and the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Jan. 23. If you’re wanting to catch a glimpse of what’s to come, there are lots of opportunities.
2020 NHL Draft: Lafrenière First Overall?
In preseason draft rankings, Lafrenière is the unanimous first-overall choice. But there are already discussions on who could overthrow him and claim the top spot by the time June 26, 2020, comes around.
While I could see Quinton Byfield and possibly Lucas Raymond making a strong case this season, I’m not so sure about the others that TSN’s Craig Button mentions, as of right now. That being said, the draft is still 10 months away and the 2020 NHL Draft is looking extremely strong. Anything is possible.
For now, Lafrenière remains at the top of the ranking boards. If he takes another step forward this season, which he is poised to do, it’s likely that that’s where he’ll remain come draft day.
Statistics from EliteProspects.com.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.