As we all know, many of the top players for the New York Rangers did not show up against the New Jersey Devils. Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad were invisible when the team needed them the most. However, there is also another player who has been getting some criticism from the fanbase. This player is Alexis Lafreniere. He had a total of 0 points in the seven games against the Devils and many are calling for the Rangers to trade their former 1st overall pick.
While there could be some justification for trading Lafreniere, there is also plenty of reasons why the Rangers should keep him. He is still very young and will be cost-controlled on his next contract. The Rangers are going to need him going forward as they try to retool and prepare to go on a deep run in the next few seasons.
Lafreniere is still just 21 years old and is coming off his third NHL season, his second 82-game season since his first was the COVID-shortened season. He had a career-high 39 points in 81 games played and was three shy of tying his career-high in goals. While these numbers may not look like a first-overall pick, we have to remember that he is not like other recent first-overall picks.
When guys like Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid were drafted, they were immediately put on the top line because they were the best player in their position. When the Rangers won the draft lottery and got the right to draft Lafreniere, they already had Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider at left wing so at best, he would be the team’s third best at the position. This is where he has played the majority of his time as a Ranger, third-line minutes with very little power-play time.
They tried him at right-wing for a time, but it was not working. Unless a major trade is made, he is still the team’s third-best left wing going into next season and while he should get an opportunity for more playing time, it’s going to be hard to justify moving down Kreider or Panarin to make it happen.
Lafreniere is an RFA this summer. The Rangers have both him and K’Andre Miller as the key players they need to sign. When it comes to what his contract might look like, it will most likely be a bridge deal. When Chytil and Kakko both needed their first new deal after their ELCs expired, they each signed a two-year deal in the range of $2.1-$2.3 million. This is the kind of deal Lafreniere is likely to sign because he has not put up the numbers to justify asking for more.
This means the Rangers can keep him at a low cost and if he can improve over the next few seasons, then they can look towards giving him a longer-term deal. The Rangers should be trying to keep this player because of the cap crunch they are in the next couple of years until the cap jumps up. They need to keep their cheap young players to help fill out the lineup.
For those who want Lafreniere to be traded, do you expect the Rangers to get a player better than him? You won’t be trading him for picks and prospects because you are in winnow mode. You can’t trade him for a player making tons of money because the Rangers can’t afford it. At best, you trade him for another struggling young player who will just be playing in the same third-line role Lafreniere is playing right now.
If you trade him to another team, he is going to get the top-six minutes he isn’t getting in New York. If he gets those minutes and becomes the player everyone thought he could be, the Rangers look even dumber for trading him because they should have tried to give him those minutes themselves. The Rangers need to keep Lafreniere and try to make him into the player they drafted first overall.
Everyone is sick of calling the young players kids because they have so much NHL experience already, but they still are young and have so much time to develop. This is why the Rangers need to keep Lafreniere around for the foreseeable future. You need to see what kind of player he is with more ice time and more responsibility. If that means pushing a veteran down the lineup for a stretch of games, then do it. Lafreniere is the future of this team and if can get the opportunity to show what he can do, it would make the Rangers an even better team. Let’s not give up on him just yet. All he needs is an opportunity.