Alexis Lafreniere is someone that everyone seems to debate all the time. I’ve seen people say he’s a really good 3rd line option with Chytil and Kakko. I’ve seen people say he needs to be traded or needs time with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. I’ve seen people say that he needs to come out of the lineup and watch a real team play. There’s a spectrum with Lafreniere that stretches long and far.
For the Quebecois winger, this season has been a casual improvement. In the 65 games he has played in, he’s tallied 14 goals and 18 assists to sit just under the half-a-point-a-game marker. He’s already set a new career high in points (albeit, his rookie season was in the 56-game shortened year due to the pandemic) so there’s enough to say there’s been growth with this player.
Right now, Lafreniere is on pace for roughly 41 points, 17 goals, and 24 helpers. Would that not be a major improvement from a player that was only barely able to eclipse the 30-point mark last season in 79 games? He remains unlikely to break the 20-goal plateau he got so close to last year, but he is still a player that has come a long way during his time in the Big Apple.
When he was scratched from the lineup in early January, rumors started to fly about his future. How he could be out the door if Gallant doesn’t like his playing style because of some of the issues Lafreniere has playing defense at the NHL level. While that is still a very valid critique of this player, the defense has always been difficult for young players in this league. It’s why when a kid comes in and is so solid in his own zone, it is such a big deal.
Lafreniere is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, and I suspect this debate will not end when he is either signed or traded or whatever happens in that saga. People will continue to compare him to the rest of his draft class and sight how other players could and should have been taken above Lafreniere in the draft and how it may not have been the best decision to take the Canadian.
For those wondering, the top point producer from Lafreniere’s draft in 2020 is Tim Stutzle of the Ottawa Senators. Lucas Raymond of the Detroit Red Wings is second with Dawson Mercer of the New Jersey Devils not far back. Lafreniere is 4th, ahead of Carolina’s Seth Jarvis. Hindsight is 2020 and with how Stutzle is playing in Ottawa, there is a strong case to say he could be the first overall pick in a re-draft.
However, that does not mean that Lafreniere as a player is coherently flawed as some members of the hockey world seem to think. He’s not going to throw big hits but he’s a skilled player with possession of the puck, and Lafreniere’s skating is above average. Admittedly, he is not the finished article at this point, but it does not mean that he has not got room to grow as a player.
This should not be interpreted as me saying that Alexis Lafreniere will not benefit from a change of scenery if the Rangers opt to move on from him in the summer with the coming cap concerns.