New York Rangers rookie Alexis Lafreniere hasn’t exactly taken the NHL by storm since the highly-touted winger was taken No. 1 overall in the 2020 NHL Draft back in October.
Through 34 games, the Quebec native has just 10 points (five goals, five assists) — with the indication that his game had been slipping in recent times.
The 19-year-old has accrued four of his five lowest ice-time totals have come over the Rangers’ last six games, including on Sunday when he saw just 8:13 of time on ice — well off his season average of 14:11 — in New York’s 5-4 loss to the Washington Capitals.
That included a career-low 7:53 of ice time on March 20 against the Capitals in which acting head coach Kris Knoblauch at the time called a “mismanagement” of the bench.
Prior to Sunday matinee, Lafreniere had tallied just two assists over his last 12 games — a worrying stat line considering this was far and away the best playmaking prospect available in the 2020 draft class.
It’s why head coach David Quinn, who returned from a six-game layoff due to a run-in with COVID, and Knoblauch, have been limiting his time.
“He and I talked actually before the last Philly game [on Saturday], and you can just see he’s frustrated,” Quinn said. “This is a hard league. I know we’ve all talked about how it’s a hard league to step into in these circumstances. It’s hard enough when you get a one-week training camp, you don’t have any exhibition games and you have to hit the ground running. It’s just a really strange year, and it’s a hard year for rookies. You can see that he’s getting frustrated, and to me, it’s the mental aspect of what he’s going through right now. We’ve just got to help him through it.”
Lafreniere responded to another day of limited ice time with his fifth goal of the season to help spark a late Rangers comeback that ultimately fell short.
His development will be just one of the factors that will ultimately dictate Quinn’s tenure at Madison Square Garden. After winning four of six games with Knoblauch behind the bench, it would be understandable if Quinn were to start hearing footsteps behind him.
The head coach has now lost five of his last six games dating back to before his COVID absence and the Rangers undoubtedly responded while he was gone.
“Kris has done a great job and he and I have a good relationship,” Quinn said, as Knoblauch remained on the bench Sunday as an assistant. “We talk about our systems, which are the same… We have good conversations over the course of the season. It was good to have him here… He did a good job.”