Rangers see important strides made in former 1st overall pick Alexis Lafreniere

Rangers - Alexis Lafreniere
New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin, center, celebrates his goal against the San Jose Sharks with teammate Alexis Lafreniere (13) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Alexis Lafreniere isn’t in uncharted territory when it comes to high expectations with the Rangers. The former first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft dominated the QMJHL with Rimouski Océanic. 

In 2017, Lafreniere totaled 42 goals, the most scored by a rookie in the OMJHL since Sidney Crosby in 2004.

Since being drafted by the New York Rangers in 2020, Lafreniere has been a key player in the attempt to change New York from a rebuilding group to a dominant championship contender. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. 

The winger has totaled just 52 points in 135 games. But his impact on the “Kid Line” in last season’s playoff run showed signs that Lafreniere had been turning the corner. “Laffy” was sixth on the team in playoff points with nine. 

But with the onset of free agency, the Rangers had to part ways with several key players from their playoff run last season. That meant Lafreniere, Kakko, and other top young players would need to step up and take the next step into stardom. 

In Lafreniere’s case, working with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck on the second line has allowed him to get the most out of key offensive chances. 

“It’s been good. They are two really good players and they make a lot of plays. It’s fun for me to play with them and be good in all three zones.” Lafreniere told AMNY after practice Saturday.

The work that the Panarin-Trochck-Lafreniere line has put up has been noticed by more than just fans and analysts. 

“They played really well. So I’m happy with the top two lines in the energy and skill level there so we’ll see what happens.” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. 

Lafreniere has put up three points with an average ice time of over 16 minutes: a three-minute increase over his first two seasons. While the time with his former kid line partners has certainly decreased with the Rangers needing more from him, Lafreniere also appreciates when they actually do. 

“I play wherever. We have a deep lineup. Every line has some really good players so I play wherever, right side, left side, doesn’t matter.” Lafreniere said. 

Coming off the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose, the team will be looking to turn the page on what was a disappointing start to their four-game home stretch. As long as Lafreniere and the rest of the young core continue to play well, Thursday’s loss will look more and more like an aberration. 

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