What does it mean?
We’ve all seen the comments: “Lafrenière stinks,” or “Worst #1 pick ever.”
What’s important to remember is that he was all of 18 years old when he made the Rangers’ roster. As the best player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he was used to being the go-to player on his team, playing top minutes in all situations.
In our article about Kaapo Kakko, we talked about the emphasis NHL pros place on confidence. Whether it be Coach Gerard Gallant or veterans like Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, the first word out of their mouths when they talk about scoring is confidence.
As with Kakko, the Rangers could be guilty of how they handed their #1 pick. While it is unheard of for top overall picks to not play in the NHL the year that they are drafted, considering the pandemic,getting his feet wet in the AHL might have benefited him more than an NHL debut right away. This season, Buffalo’s top pick, Owen Power, is playing in the NCAA rather than jumping to the NHL.
The Rangers could have encouraged him to play at the World Junior Championships. A great showing at the tournament could have jump started his season and gotten him some valuable playing time before joining the Rangers.
The good news is that because of injuries and roster issues, it appears that Lafrenière has won himself an extended look as the right wing on the line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. It’s something that he tried a few times in his first two seasons with little success, but recently, he has shown some promise on the off wing.
With Panarin and Kreider firmly in place on the top two lines at left wing, it is imperative for Lafrenière to make the move to right wing. There’s really no issue, he simply has to do it. The Rangers didn’t draft first overall to get a third line left winger.
It’s important to note that with 10 goals, he is tied for fourth place on the team this season despite being eighth among Rangers forwards when it comes to ice time. His three game winning goals are second most on the team and only Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider have more than the seven game-winners that he has scored in the last two seasons.
Before anyone jumps off the Lafrenière bandwagon, it’s important to recognize the situation that he landed in when he was drafted by the Rangers. The good news is he is beginning to show the confidence and ability that he was known for when he was the best junior player in hockey for years. With more time and experience, the hope has to be that he will eventually turn into the player that the Rangers thought they were getting when they drafted him. Don’t forget, he doesn’t turn 21 until October 11.