The New York Rangers made an impressive run to the Eastern Conference Final this year and they got big contributions from many of their young players, including Alexis Lafreniere, who quietly had a strong season. He made the most of his opportunities even though he primarily played on the third line and second power-play unit, but next season the Rangers must start using him as a top-six forward.
Lafreniere’s Growth and Development
As a rookie during the 2020-21 season, Lafreniere produced just one point (an overtime goal) in his first 15 games but still ended up with 12 goals and nine assists while playing in all 56 games. He played with physicality, drove to the front of the net, and scored a few clutch goals late in games.
Despite his strong end to the 2021-22 season, Lafreniere still spent most of the past season in a bottom-six role and rarely got time on the power play until late in the season. He made a few defensive mistakes which cost him ice time, and they often resulted in him playing less than 10 minutes per game.
Though Lafreniere struggled to earn head coach Gerard Gallant’s trust, the Rangers had a few injuries which gave the talented young forward an opportunity to play on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Lafreniere had to play on his off-wing, but he fit in well and capitalized on his scoring chances.
The Rangers acquired a few forwards at the trade deadline and they got a few of their injured forwards back which resulted in Lafreniere returning to the third line, though he remained a member of the second power-play unit. He finished the regular season with 19 goals and 12 assists in 79 games.
Most importantly, Lafreniere played his best hockey in the playoffs, as he played with an edge, won battles for the puck, and consistently created chances for linemates Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. In 20 games, he had two goals, seven assists, and 50 hits while averaging 14:02 of ice time per game.
Lafreniere Deserves More Opportunities
The Rangers may lose several key players during free agency but regardless of that, Lafreniere deserves to be a top-six forward. He proved to be very effective at even strength during the postseason as his combination of skill and grit made him a difference-maker.
Of Lafreniere’s 52 career points, all but two have come at even strength. His 19 even-strength goals during the 2021-22 season were also the second-most on the team (Kreider scored 23.) He also has great hands and a very good shot.
At the very least, Lafreniere should be playing on the second power-play unit and could be a good fit on the top unit as well. The Rangers have two great playmakers in Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin, Kreider is excellent in front of the net and Zibanejad has a great shot. However, Ryan Strome missed the net on numerous great scoring opportunities in both the regular season and the playoffs, so replacing him with Lanfreniere could pay off for the Blueshirts.
Lafreniere & the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers have not shown much faith in their young forwards but the “Kid Line” of Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kakko proved to be one of their best lines in the playoffs. Lafreniere has played with an edge while also displaying offensive talent, and on a team filled with pass-first players, he has shown a shoot-first mentality and has been very effective at even strength.
Now, it’s the time for the Rangers to show faith in Lafreniere and use him as a top-six forward next season in order to get the most out of the skilled 20-year-old winger.