The contract saga with Alexis Lafreniere officially came to a close after he signed a new two-year deal with the New York Rangers on Aug. 23, 2023. With a new deal signed and the Rangers having finished their offseason business, all eyes are now on the 2023-24 season. This is going to be a big season for Lafreniere, who should have no more excuses as to why he’s not getting a top-six opportunity. If he gets consistent time in the top six and flourishes, then great. If he doesn’t play well, this could be his last season as a Ranger.
Getting Top-6 Minutes
With a new coach in Peter Laviolette behind the bench this upcoming season, this is the time where Lafreniere needs to prove himself and show why he deserves top-six minutes on this team. While he is behind Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider on the left-wing depth chart, he would only be behind Kaapo Kakko on the right-wing depth chart. Lafreniere is mostly comfortable playing on the left wing, but if he wants to get more ice time, he needs to become more comfortable playing on his off-wing. The more versatile he can become, the better he looks in the eyes of the coach, who sees that he can play on either wing with no issue.
Playing in the top six also means he will be playing with the best players on the team, which is not something he has done consistently during his first three seasons with the Rangers. If he is able to slide into the second-line right-wing role, he will be on a line with either Kreider or Panarin on the other wing and either Vincent Trocheck or Filip Chytil as his center. Playing with these players should be able to bring out the best parts of Lafreniere’s game and they could also teach him how to improve his game, as he will still be only 22 when the season begins.
Players Blocking His Path
Entering this season, there should be no excuse as to why Lafreniere isn’t getting top-six minutes. Prior to this season, one of the arguments made about why he didn’t get those minutes was because there were players in front of him that the coach trusted more. This season, that will not be the case. The only player who is truly competition for him is Blake Wheeler. Wheeler is going to get a look on the right wing in the top six, and if Lafreniere wants that spot, he needs to show Laviolette that he is a better player than Wheeler during training camp and during preseason games.
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There is no Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane or Frank Vatrano anymore. While all of these players were helpful during their time with the team, they aren’t here anymore and won’t be occupying the top-six spots that players like Lafreniere and Kakko should be playing. This season will truly be a test to see if he can be a legitimate top winger on this team for years to come as the rest of the players around him continue to get older and less productive.
Potential Trade Candidate
If Lafreniere does fail this season to meet exceptions, it is very likely that this season will be his last as a Ranger. There were already plenty of rumors this summer of the Rangers talking with other teams about a potential Lafreniere deal. While general manager Chris Drury shut those rumors down, there could always be truth to them. If Drury and the rest of Rangers management don’t like what they see from Lafreniere this season, they could look to move him for another player who can help them win now. This is truly why all eyes will be on him this season.
The Rangers never expected to draft Lafreniere and got lucky that they did. However, Lafreniere hasn’t been able to live up to his potential so far in his time with the team. Going into this season, he is going to be the player to watch for the Rangers. Will he be able to take the next step, or is it going to be another up-and-down season for the former first-overall pick?