Perhaps the most anticipated rookie to touch down in the NHL this season is no doubt, Alexis Lafreniere. The New York Rangers‘ first overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft has waited for his entire hockey career for this opportunity, and now it is finally here.
With such a different looking NHL season on the horizon, It will be even harder to predict how Lafreniere will take to the Rangers. However, luckily for Rangers fans, with so many talented forwards, defensemen, and coaches at Lafreniere’s disposal, I am confident he will make a smooth transition into the league.
There’s no better place to look to predict the success of Lafrenieres rookie year than to look at those who came before him. Ironically, just a year before Lafreniere was drafted, Kaapo Kakko was in a similar situation. The second overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft was, like Lafreniere, projected to take the league by storm. In Kakko’s rookie year he finished with 10 goals, 13 assists, and 23 points in 63 games. Although it was a setback from many people’s expectations, Kakko managed to battle through the ups and downs. Likewise, Lafreniere will most definitely have to do the same and adjust to the extraordinary season.
Furthermore, Lafreniere will not have many veterans to look up to. With such a young team like the Rangers, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider will most likely take roles of showing the rookie the ropes. Although Lafreniere is just a season late from playing alongside great veterans like Henrik Lundqvist, Jesper Fast, and Marc Staal, Lafreniere has not gotten to where he is today by following other players. He’s an independent trailblazer and that’s what he will continue to do.
The Right Line For Lafreniere
Depending on which line bears Alexis Lafreniere’s name, his stats could obviously vary. This is why over the past couple of months there has been constant debate over which line Lafreniere should start on. Although the Rangers haven’t made it official yet, I personally believe Lafreniere should find himself starting on the third line. Just like Kakko last season, Lafreniere will bring the third line lots of depth. As far as his linemates go, we will just have to wait until opening night to find out. I personally believe Filip Chytil should center both Lafreniere and Brendan Lemieux on the third line. This will allow for both Lemieux and Chytil to learn from Lafreniere’s innate offensive talent. On top of this, it will also allow for the rookie to be protected under Lemieux’s physical presence.
It’s important to remember that Lafreniere can still move up in the lines as the season progresses. Plus, Lafreniere will most likely be on a powerplay line where he will also show his potential; especially when playing with top-notch players like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.
It’s always tough to predict the stats of an incoming NHL player. There are many factors that influence a player and the majority of these factors don’t come from on the ice. That being said, in a 56 game season I predict that Lafreniere will tally somewhere around twenty to thirty points. I believe this is a fair estimation for a first overall pick in a modified season. However, on the higher side, I think it could be anywhere between thirty and forty points. My point here is that you just don’t know what Lafreniere will do. You don’t want to set too high of a ceiling on a rookie because if he doesn’t reach the top of the ceiling in the first season, too many people will believe that he is a bust.
We saw a similar thing happen with Kaapo Kakko. He came to New York as a foreigner with virtually only the ability to play hockey. When Kakko didn’t break out into a 60+ points player, many fans got discouraged. However, we cannot let that happen this time with Lafreniere. I expect him to take some time, in the beginning, to gain some confidence and adjust to the NHL. From there, he controls his own success.
Regardless of the uncontrollable factors which could sway Lafreniere’s success this season, Alexis Lafreniere is simply a talented hockey player. His stats, awards, trophies, medals, and coaches are all there to prove it. He is a player with a variety of assets that, if not immediately, will eventually find his game. Remember Rangers fans, we must be patient and not rush the process. Like I said before, don’t expect an unattainable amount of points from this rookie. While I expect Lafreniere to take a little bit of time to develop, I also believe there is a small chance he dominates from the start. An indicator of this will be in his first ten games of the season.
Moreover, if Lafreniere in the first ten games gets straight to the score sheet, he could have a record-setting rookie season. Nevertheless, whether it takes him months to find his game or weeks, trust the fact that Lafreniere is set up for success in the Rangers organization.