After three brilliant seasons in the QMJHL, the expectations for Alexis Lafreniere were very high when the New York Rangers selected him with the first pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. Despite a slow start, he has improved throughout the season and the Blueshirts should be happy with his growth.
Lafreniere’s Early Season Slump
Early in the season, Lafreniere showed he wasn’t afraid to drive to the net and created a lot of scoring opportunities but struggled to finish and score. He also held on to the puck too long at times and seemed indecisive about whether to shoot or pass in his first few games. He was held without a point in his first six games and pressure to get his first point began as the Rangers struggled, winning just one of those six games.
New York’s next game was on the road against the Buffalo Sabres, who the Rangers had just lost 3-2 to in their previous game. Lafreniere was noticeable on the forecheck and had three shots on goal in regulation, which ended with the game tied 2-2. In overtime, head coach David Quinn decided to play the young winger with Colin Blackwell, who stole the puck creating a two-on-one opportunity with Lafreniere. Blackwell made a nice pass and Lafreniere capitalized on the opportunity, making his first goal a game-winner.
While scoring a big goal took some of the pressure off of Lafreniere, he continued to slump and was held without any points in his next eight games. He failed to convert on a few good scoring opportunities from in tight and though he didn’t play poorly, he couldn’t break through offensively.
Lafreniere’s Improved Play and the Rangers’ ‘Kid Line’
During his slump, Lafreniere bounced around with different linemates and often ended up playing on New York’s fourth line. Eventually, Quinn decided to start playing him with some of his younger teammates and they played well together. He got playing time with Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil, although both missed time early in the season.
With both Chytil and Kakko out of the lineup, Lafreniere started to produce more offensively while playing with gritty role players, including Blackwell and Kevin Rooney. After producing just one point in his first 15 games, he had three goals and three assists in his next six games. His confidence began to grow, he became more decisive and he made some nice plays to set up linemates.
After Chytil and Kakko returned to the lineup, Lafreniere was able to form chemistry with his fellow young forwards on the ‘Kid Line’ and the three have all played well together. Though none of the three have gotten much power-play time, they have all produced at even strength and have gotten better as the season has gone on.
Lafreniere is up to nine goals and seven assists in 48 games this season while averaging just 13:41 in ice time per game with hardly any time on the power play. He made a diving assist and showed off quick hands to score an impressive goal in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.
Even though the Rangers have a winning record, the East Division has four great teams who are all well ahead of the Blueshirts. Down the stretch, New York’s young forwards, including Lafreniere, should all get increased ice time and some time on the power play as well.
At times, Lafreniere has been buried on the bench as Quinn opted to rely heavily on the Rangers’ top two lines in hopes of making a playoff push. Now that New York’s playoff hopes are fading, the coach will likely give the young forwards more playing time for the rest of the season.
Lafreniere played just 9:11 in a win over the rival New Jersey Devils last week but played 17:49 in New York’s game on Saturday. He has been one of the Rangers’ best players over their last two games and will be a player to watch down the stretch. It’s clear that he has come a long way since the start of this season, which bodes well for 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.