Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere continuing to come of age in 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Alexis Lafreniere Rangers
New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafrenière (13) jumps over defenseman Erik Gustafsson’s (56) stick during the first period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

The evolution of Alexis Lafreniere is happening before our very eyes.

The 22-year-old left-winger came up with his first signature playoff moments as a member of the New York Rangers, potting two goals — his first two since the 2022 postseason — during the Blueshirts’ 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes to take a 2-0 series lead.

“It’s just a continuation of his regular season,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He was going tonight. When a player’s going and you can see it, I saw it, you want him out there. You can find time, you can double shift him, and find some extra minutes for him… I think he’s taken the regular season and the confidence he got from that and has brought it into the playoffs.”

Laviolette could take some credit for all this. Lafreniere is having the best season of his young career on an unchanged second line alongside Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck — the latter scoring the double-overtime winner on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m just trying to play a complete game,” Lafreniere said. “Playing with Troch and Bread helps a lot. Just try to get open and when I get a chance, try to finish it.”

He was open and scored plenty of times this season, scoring a career-high 28 goals to show the kind of mettle that many expected from him when he was taken No. 1 overall at the 2020 draft. But starting life in the NHL during a pandemic and being labeled one of the saviors of one of the largest brands in hockey, the Rangers, who are searching for their first Stanley Cup in 30 years is a lot to contend with. 

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(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)AP Photos

It did not help that former head coach Gerard Gallant was impatient with him. So much so that he made Lafreniere a healthy scratch in December of 2023 which led to a flood of trade rumors raining down upon the then-restricted free agent. 

Laviolette, however, carved out a place for the still-developing youngster (despite this being his fourth season) and stuck with him throughout — Tuesday night providing a display of what is going to make him a dependable, successful player for years to come. 

Midway through the first period, he took a cross-ice pass from K’Andre Miller on his backhand in the left face-off circle, transitioned to his forehand, and in a blink sniped a wrist shot from a tough angle that beat Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen short side. With 7:32 gone in the second period and the Rangers down 2-1, Lafreniere drove to the Hurricanes’ net, snuck behind the defense, and tapped in a cross-ice feed at the left post from Adam Fox to tie the game.

A heady play to get to the front of the net before the aggressive Hurricanes, but an effort that is nothing new to his teammates, even if this kind of production might be new to spectators who wrote a 22-year-old off, already.

“It’s always been there,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “Coming into the league at a young age, into New York, is not the easiest of roles to be put in. He works hard. He’s a great guy to be around. He’s a great teammate. He’s confident. He’s having fun. I think that’s when he’s at his best. He actually is a kid at heart and that’s a compliment I would say. He brings so much to the table, his skill, he plays hard. I think that’s something that gets overlooked with him. He’s a huge part of our team.”

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(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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