There is no need to panic about Alexis Lafreniere and the New York Rangers just yet.
We’re two weeks into the 2020-21 NHL Season and, not only are the New York Rangers a disappointing 1-3-1 to start the year, propping up an incredibly stacked East Division, but generational talent Alexis Lafreniere has yet to record a single point five games into his National Hockey League career.
Now, given the fact that he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and entered the league with the most hype since perhaps the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, there will be some out there who would have expected Lafreniere to be sitting pretty on five, six or seven points by now, maybe even more.
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After all, Minnesota Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov is off to a stellar start with six points (1 G, 5 A) in six games, while New Jersey Devils defenseman Ty Smith also has six points (1 G, 5 A) in five games in what has been a pretty superb start to his NHL career. Then you have Chicago Blackhawks rookie Pius Suter who, not only scored his first career NHL goal on Sunday, but also scored his first career NHL hat trick for the Hawks against the Detroit Red Wings for good measure.
However, it isn’t one size fits all in the NHL and rookies and prospects take different periods of time to adapt and get used to their new surroundings. After all, Alexis Lafreniere is only 19-years-old and it is sometimes easy to forget that given all the lofty expectations he began his New York Rangers career with.
He came in viewed as the savior for a Rangers team still navigating a rebuild, while the uber-talented left winger was also seen as the latest elite stud to be able to come in and instantly become one of the young faces of the National Hockey League.
It won’t be long until Alexis Lafreniere starts to light it up for the New York Rangers
It is more complicated than that, though. As we saw with New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, high pedigree doesn’t translate to instant success in the best but hardest league in the world and, as such, the center had to endure a tough rookie year that featured more ups and downs.
That gruelling experience proved to be the perfect learning curve for Hughes, however, who has come out swinging this year with seven points (3 G, 4 A) in five games after really getting to work during the offseason, piling on muscle, honing his craft and learning from the mistakes he made during his rookie year.
And the Rangers witnessed it first hand last year with Kaapo Kakko, who was the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and, like Hughes, endured a difficult first year in North America with 23 points (10 G, 13 A) in 66 games with a plus / minus rating of -26. But, and while not quite at the same level as Hughes, Kakko has looked better so far this season and could be primed for a breakout year.
So, to get worried about Alexis Lafreniere after just five games is really a bit pointless, even though he will have less games to impress this year given that this is a 56-game shortened schedule. However, we know the talent is there and it will only be a matter of time until everything clicks for the left shot and he begins to take the NHL by storm.
Plus, it is also important to remember that Lafreniere entered the NHL in unprecedented circumstances given that, due to COVID-19, he only had a very, very short Training Camp so had less time to prepare for the NHL and form bonds with his teammates than he would in any other year. And both are incredibly important factors in a rookie’s development and overall maturation process.
Also, there has been signs through five games that Lafreniere is getting close to really kicking into gear and wreaking some havoc. For instance, after starting the season on the third-line, he’s been bumped up to the top line and has been moved back to his more natural position on the left-wing, playing alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Now, it hasn’t exactly helped Lafreniere’s cause that both Kreider and Zibanejad have both been less than stellar to start the 2020-21 season, with the latter still perhaps getting over a bout of COVID-19.
However, Lafreniere has flashed glimpses of his insane ability, he’s been more visible over the last couple of games, he’s now averaging 15:36 minute of total ice time and the talent is there, he just needs to adjust to the speed of the NHL and make better decisions and, once he has that nailed down, I think the rest will follow.
Given his incredible natural talent too, I don’t think we will have to wait a whole year for Lafreniere to break through, either. No, you can see signs of the absolute stud starting to put it all together right now and, once he starts to develop more chemistry with his new linemates, starts to get used to the speed of the NHL and gets his feet under him a little bit more, then I don’t think it will be long at all until we see the real start of the Alexis Lafreniere show. So, for now, let’s just be a little bit more patient shall we because, after all, good things come to those who wait.