The New York Rangers got blessed in back-to-back years when they won the second overall pick in 2019 and the first overall pick in 2020. Those players became Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. While they haven’t turned into the superstars they were projected to be, they also haven’t gotten a fair opportunity to show what they can do. For Kakko, he looks like he is becoming a more complete player after coming off his best season as a Ranger.
For Lafreniere, his path is still unclear. He is an RFA this summer and if he signs a bridge deal like Kakko and Flip Chytil did after their ELCs expired, the Rangers are going to have him for two more years at a cheap price and they should use that time to help him become a better player. They should not trade him away because he hasn’t turned out the way he should have. They need to work with him in order for him to become the superstar he is projected to be.
Lafreniere’s path is different from Kakko’s because, for Kakko, he is currently the best right-wing on the team that’s under contract. They have no choice but to play him in the top six next season because they have no other options unless they can bring back one of Patrick Kane or Vladimir Tarasenko, and that seems unlikely at the time of this writing.
For Lafreniere, he has two players blocking him and that are taking the top-six minutes he would be getting if he was drafted to another team in 2020. Those two players are Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider.
At the time the Rangers won the lottery in 2020, they had just signed Kreider to a contract extension and Panarin also had just finished his first year with the Rangers. They also did not expect to win the lottery again because they were playing well when the season ended due to COVID.
The Rangers got lucky because they were entered into the lottery after they got destroyed by Carolina in the bubble series. Since day one, Lafreniere was always going to have these two players standing in his way, and going into next season, changes need to be made.
When saying that changes need to be made, it doesn’t mean that the Rangers need to trade one of Panarin or Kreider because they can’t, it just means that they need to put Lafreniere in the top-six and give him more time to play with the elite players on the team. Whether that means trying him on the right wing or having Kreider move down to the third line, they need to give him the time to develop into a top player because he is the future of this team.
The Rangers’ core players aren’t getting any younger. The Rangers drafted these young players because they saw them as the future of the franchise. If the Rangers and their new head coach, whether it’s Peter Laviolette, John Hynes, or someone else, can give Lafreniere a bigger opportunity on this team, he can show why he was the consensus first-overall pick in his draft class.
For the Rangers fans who want to trade Lafreniere, why and what do you expect to get for him? The Rangers would be selling low on a player who has all the potential in the world. You wouldn’t be getting back a player who’s better now. You also can’t bring in a player who makes tons of money because the Rangers are not going to have the cap space for a player like that. At best, the Rangers could get another young struggling player from another team and maybe a second or third-round pick. At that point, is it even worth trading him away? He is still only 21 and will be 22 when the season starts. The Rangers need to keep him and help him grow into becoming a better player.
As mentioned earlier, Lafreniere was the consensus number-one pick in his draft class. The talent he had back then hasn’t just simply gone away. Sure, he still needs to work on his skating, but he has all the talent in the world and just hasn’t gotten the chance to show it at the NHL level.
We have seen glimpses of it and it has shocked us and left us wondering why he doesn’t show it more often. Going into next season, the Rangers’ top priority should be putting him in a position where he will succeed. His success is not only good for the player but for the entire team going forward.