The New York Rangers have found a way to win games with key contributors out of the lineup, as Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil have all missed the Blueshirts’ past few games. Their injuries created opportunities for a few other players, including Alexis Lafreniere, who has played very well alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, and deserves to continue playing with them once Kakko and Chytil return.
Lafreniere’s Play This Season
After a slow start as a rookie during the 2020-21 season, Lafreniere finished the season playing very well. He had five goals and three assists in New York’s final 12 games of the season, and finished with 12 goals and nine assists in 56 games. He looked much more confident as the season progressed.
This season, Lafreniere got off to a fairly strong start with three goals and one assist in his first eight games, but he made some defensive mistakes and his ice time dwindled. He has spent the majority of the season on a line with Chytil and Julien Gauthier, who have both struggled.
Though the Chytil, Lafreniere, and Gauthier line consistently created scoring chances, they struggled to capitalize on them (especially Gauthier.) Additionally, Lafreniere hasn’t gotten much time on the power play; he spent part of the season on the second power-play unit, and for part of the season the Rangers left him off of both power-play units.
Despite his limited ice time, Lafreniere forechecked aggressively, made a few important blocked shots late in games, and still scored some important goals for the Rangers.
This season, Chytil has won just 42.4 percent of his faceoffs, and though he is usually a streaky scorer, he has yet to get on one of those streaks this season. Gauthier has excellent speed and strength but has repeatedly failed to score on great scoring chances. Playing on a line with two struggling linemates wasn’t an ideal situation for Lafreniere but he continued to play hard and make the most of his opportunities.
Lafreniere’s Play With Zibanejad and Kreider
One of the reasons Lafreniere hasn’t had more opportunities to play a top-six role with the Rangers is he plays left-wing just like Kreider and Artemi Panarin. For most of the season, the Blueshirts have kept Ryan Strome and Panarin together, and Kreider and Zibanejad together. However, they have yet to find a consistent right-wing for either of their top-two lines.
With Kakko and Chytil out of the lineup, Lafreniere has played on his off-wing on a line with Kreider and Zibanejad, and so far he has played very well with both of them. Their line has stepped up to help the Blueshirts continue to win games with key players injured.
In New York’s 3-2 victory against the Seattle Kraken on Sunday, Lafreniere got good positioning in front of the net, and scored on a rebound after Zibanejad hit the post. In the Rangers’ last game against the Florida Panthers, Lafreniere drove to the net and scored on a backhand shot to tie the game at two. Zibanejad scored the first goal of the game and Kreider scored twice, leading the Blueshirts to a 5-2 victory.
Lafreniere has continued to play hard, drive to the net, and forecheck well. He is making the most of his opportunity to play with Zibanejad and Kreider and the three have quickly formed chemistry. They have been the Rangers’ most effective line since they began playing together (in their last five games) and they should continue playing together.
For Lafreniere and the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers have two weeks off before their next game so hopefully, Fox, Kakko, and Chytil will be back in the lineup by then. Kakko could play on a line with Strome and Panarin while Lafreniere stays with Zibanejad and Kreider.
The Blueshirts need to start showing faith in Lafreniere. All 10 of his goals have come at even strength which is impressive given that he spent most of the season playing alongside struggling linemates, and the Blueshirts have had trouble generating scoring opportunities at even strength.
Lafreniere has taken advantage of the chance to play in a top-six role, and he has earned his spot alongside Zibanejad and Kreider. His strong play of late is encouraging, both for this season and the future of the Rangers.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.