Everyone knows that when it comes to preseason in the NHL, it is all about getting players prepared for the regular season, trying new line combinations, giving long looks to players trying to crack the roster, and so on.
It is a chance for everyone in the organization to get on the right page and for players to get their games to where they need to be to have a successful season. This is especially the case for players who are trying to prove that they are worth giving a lot of minutes to in the upcoming season.
One of those players is Alexis Lafreniere. Going into training camp, new head coach Peter Laviolette said that Lafreniere, 21, would get time playing in the top six.
Laviolette has even gone as far as to praise Lafreniere for being willing to switch over to the right wing and not complain about doing so. In speaking with reporters prior to the team’s 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, September 28, Laviolette said the following to New York Post Rangers’ beat writer Larry Brooks regarding Lafreniere:
“He’s been really responsive, really easy to talk to, really easy to coach,” said the head coach of Lafreniere. “I think he’s been really good. He hasn’t come over telling us that he just can’t figure out how to get out on the right wing. I don’t think it affects him really that much.
“He seems like he’s really excited to get the opportunity. That line is in place for a reason and for a purpose, to take a look at it. I think the more he does it, the more he just stays with it, that’s an opportunity to possibly look at him in the top-six or power-play situations.”
In that same article, Laviolette also said that the Rangers made the right decision when they took him with the number one overall pick as the skills that he has identified with a player of that caliber.
“There’s a skill level that goes with him, his hands, his ability to make plays in tight areas, and the hockey IQ part of it,” Laviolette said when asked if Lafreniere pops as a No. 1 overall when watching him skate. “I think he’s in a good spot in regard to previous development.
“Not everyone comes in at 18 and just smacks the league around. It’s more difficult than that. I think there’s been a process with him where, last year, he had his productive year. With that comes maturity, a different physical presence from an 18-year-old kid to the players we’re talking about, who are 22, 23, 24. There’s a big difference in that.”
Despite all the praise Laviolette has heaped on Lafreniere so far, it appears that through two preseason games, it has been unwarranted. In that loss against the Devils in a game in which he played with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, Lafreniere was not noticeable as he did not get involved too much on the offense as he had just one shot on net and was a +/- – 1 on 24 shifts and 18:28 minutes of ice time.
Two nights later, on September 30th, in a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders in Long Island, it was the same story for Lafreniere. Yes, he had an assist, but for someone who had 17:27 minutes of ice time and 19 shifts, he had just one shot on goal and was a +/- – 2.
Many fans figure that by putting Lafreniere on one of the top two lines; he would get a chance to show the kind of player he could be. These same fans and even the franchise in general hope that by doing this, Lafreniere will play like the number one overall pick that they selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
As mentioned above, that has not been the case in the two preseason games that he has played. It could be said that it has been much of the same from a player who is close to being labeled a true bust, which would be extremely disappointing, to say the least, for both the franchise and their fans.
Again, it is only preseason, so maybe this is an overreaction. With that said, with this kind of opportunity that Laviolette is giving Lafreniere, one would think that he would grab the bull by the horns and show that he deserves to play with the team’s top players not only in the preseason but when the games start to matter beginning on October 12th when the team opens their season on the road against the Buffalo Sabres.
Time will only tell if Lafreniere can live up to all that is expected of him in what is a very important season for both him and the franchise.