Through the first month of hockey in the 2023-24 season, only Artemi Panarin has had a better start than Alexis Lafreniere for the New York Rangers.
Considered a “bust” by fans as a first-overall pick that had yet to break out in his first three years with the Blueshirts, a change in the coaching staff has seemingly unlocked the talent that Lafreniere always had as a top prospect. Through 14 games, the Quebec native has put up 11 points with seven goals to boot. Add in some extra minutes on the powerplay, and Lafreniere has become what the team has been hoping for when they took him with the top pick in 2020.
“I’m playing with really good linemates,” Lafreniere said Sunday. “Troch (Vincent Trocheck) has been really good for us, Bread (Panarin) has been unbelievable. Just playing with good players and trying to get open.”
Lafreniere may be on a four-game point streak, but it’s the way he’s dominating that has been so encouraging. Playing on the right side of a line with Panarin and a combination of Vincent Trocheck or Filip Chytil can leave any young player behind. Instead, the former top pick has thrived with the group and a change in the style of play brought on by the emergence of Peter Laviolette.
“I think anytime you have an impact in the game you gain confidence,” Laviolette said. “It’s not just him too. Vinny in the middle is unbelievable and Bread is terrific with his game. When they are on the ice good things are happening all the time. You start to feel it a little bit.”
Laviolette’s trust in his young winger was evident in New York’s Sunday night victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The veteran coach could have sent any other vet on the ice for the shootout attempt, but he chose to run with the hot hand in Laffy, and that trust was rewarded with a game-winning goal.
“He seems to be in a good spot. There’s quite a few guys that have a strong shooting percentage on our team, so it just bumped him up a few spots with the way he was playing.”
Lafreniere certainly had a reason to be put in that spot. The forward had two goals in Sunday’s win – the latest of which came in the closing seconds of a contest the Rangers were down 3-2 in. The 22-year-old found a rebound, and unlike past years was able to capitalize on the chances that were put in front of him.
As strong as Laffy has looked, the Blueshirts understand that the NHL season is still in its infancy. So long as their former top pick continues to play like this, with a line that has become one of the most fearsome in hockey, the returns are going to be very promising for a player who had much to prove going into his fourth season.
So far so good for both the Rangers and their top young talents.