Alexis Lafreniere is proving doubters wrong, including yours truly

Prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, there were plenty of people, including myself, suggesting Alexis Lafreniere's position with the New York Rangers organization could be in jeopardy. Lafreniere's performance this season, in particular as of late, has helped silence that noise.

New York Rangers v Arizona Coyotes
New York Rangers v Arizona Coyotes / Zac BonDurant/GettyImages
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This is a reminder not to judge a book by its seemingly lackadaisical cover.

Prior to the start of the 2023-24 campaign, it was rumored at New York Rangers General Manager Chris Drury was considering moving on from the 1st overall draft selection he made in 2020, that being Alexis Lafreniere.

Now 6 months, 25 goals, and 52 points later, it appears the meticulous nature of Drury has served him well. Lafreniere is having the breakout season that Rangers brass and fanbase have been waiting so patiently to witness.

The confidence and assertiveness with the puck, the patience and simultaneous aggressiveness when controlling the puck, all the things that made him the must-have prospect in 2020 are showing themselves this season.

Perhaps new bench boss Peter Laviolette possesses some secret formula that his predecessors Gerard Gallant and David Quinn did not? Or is Lafreniere simply just recognizing his potential? Regardless, the impact forward that the club drafted nearly four years ago is taking that step forward.

Inside the numbers

Look no further than the Quebec native’s performance on Saturday night in Arizona. Yes, the Coyotes are not a playoff team. Yes, the defensive side of the game often looks optional on the Coyotes end of the rink. Nevertheless, Lafreniere had his biggest game in a Rangers sweater, posting his first career hat trick as part of his first five point game.

The young winger now has five goals in his last three games. Since March 14th, Lafreniere has points in seven of nine outings, notching 7 goals and 6 assists. The last Ranger to record five points in a single contest at Lafreniere’s age was Brian Leetch over 35 years ago. He is heating up as the club starts preparing themselves for playoff hockey. He is becoming an impact player when the team needs him to be the most impactful. 

Does it help having one of the league’s best wingers in Artemi Panarin on the opposite flank? I’m sure it can’t hurt. Yet Lafreniere’s presence on the so-called second line with Panarin and center Vincent Trocheck is more than a simple passenger.

That line is one of the most productive in the league in terms of on-ice goals at 5-on-5 play. In terms of the Rangers roster, Lafreniere ranks second on the team in 5-on-5 goals with 15, behind only Panarin. He is also shooting far more than most of his teammates, with 161 shots on goal at 5-on-5 (again only behind Panarin - 168).

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Per Natural Stat Trick, Lafreniere also ranks first on the team in terms of individual scoring chances at 5-on-5 with 195. Panarin is the next closest, sitting back at 168 scoring chances. Lafreniere has become one of the teams most effective players at 5-on-5, something the club has desperately needed this season. The team sits at 16th in the league in terms of 5-on-5 goals.

Final thoughts

So what does this all mean? Well, Lafreniere’s talent and impact didn’t suddenly evaporate, despite his lack of numbers on the scoresheet. He is still a supremely talented individual who is showing he belongs in a top-six role on this franchise.

It also means there were plenty of people, myself included, who were wrong for dismissing him so fervently. Lafreniere has earned his spot in the lineup and done so while never letting the pressure and noise get to him.

He maintained his friendly personality. Instead of crumbling under the pressure, he kept his head held high and went about his business, remaining the jovial person that his teammates talk about with such contentment.

A lesson exists under that sentiment, one perhaps more of us could learn from.

New York Rangers survive in the desert to overcome the Arizona Coyotes