It was just meant to unfold this way for Alexis Lafreniere and the New York Rangers.
After what felt a hell of a long wait and some whispers about what was wrong with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Alexis Lafreniere finally scored his first career NHL goal for the New York Rangers on Thursday night and it couldn’t have been scripted any better.
With the Rangers needing a win perhaps more than any other team in the NHL on Thursday, it looked to be another frustrating night for the then 1-4-1 Blueshirts as they were unable to beat a hot goalie in Linus Ullmark, who kept the Buffalo Sabres alive and forced Overtime with a plethora of fine saves.
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It could have gone all so terribly wrong for the Rangers once again after they gave up the tying goal in the third period but, instead, the dream scenario happened as Colin Blackwell proved his worth to this team by dishing the puck to Lafreniere who ripped the puck past Ullmark for the game-winner and his first career goal in the National Hockey League. It was a hell of a special moment for the rookie who has had to be patient for his first point, but it was well worth the wait.
You could say it was a moment of vindication for the generational talent who has had to deal with his fair share of adversity and question marks already, with some wondering what on earth was going on with one of the most naturally gifted players to come out of the NHL Draft in recent years.
Alexis Lafreniere finally arrives for the New York Rangers with huge moment
After all, Lafreniere had failed to record a single point in his first six games for the New York Rangers and, while he showed flashes of his undoubted potential, it just wasn’t quite clicking and you worried how much of a hit the rookie’s confidence would take the longer he went without making a sizeable impact on the biggest stage.
However, as we mapped out here, it takes time for young prospects to develop as we saw with New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers last year. Just because Alexis Lafreniere came into the NHL with a plethora of hype and fanfare due to his elite ability and scary high ceiling doesn’t mean that it was guaranteed that he would hit the ground running.
Still only 19-years-old, there was always going to be growing pains for Lafreniere when it came to adjusting his game for the NHL and going up against men, while he also had to get used to a new system and a new way of doing things, in addition to only having a two-week Training Camp due to the COVID-19 Pandemic forcing the league to roll out a shortened season and a truncated timetable.
Plus, and this is one thing we only touched on briefly before, the Rangers have also been pretty bad to start the 2020-21 season, so it wasn’t like Lafreniere was struggling on a good team. He’s been stuck on a team that, while still rebuilding and developing, has also failed to live up to its potential so far with some of their biggest stars in Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo and Igor Shesterkin all enduring slow starts to the year.
There’s also the small caveat that Lafreniere has had to deal with all of the above while getting used to playing in one of the biggest sports markets on the planet in New York, where the media attention is both constant and fierce in its coverage. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the No. 1 overall pick needed a minute just to settle in and get used to his new life.
And, as we saw in the last couple of nights and indeed on Thursday, Alexis Lafreniere has really begun to hit his stride as of late and I think we saw the real Alexis Lafreniere against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. Because, his Overtime heroics aside, he put together arguably his best game of the season so far and was a real threat all night long.
He finished with four shots in 15:27 minutes of total ice time and he came close to actually recording his first career NHL goal in regulation when he was denied by a sublime stop by Linus Ullmark, a moment that indicated perhaps another cruel twist of fate for the rookie who just couldn’t get a lucky bounce of the puck.
However, the elite and uber-talented winger persevered and he got his just and ultimate rewards with 2:47 played in Overtime when Colin Blackwell, who has proved to be a real smart pickup by the Rangers, stripped the puck from Buffalo Sabres Captain Jack Eichel before dishing a pass over to Alexis Lafreniere who displayed his skill by ripping a perfect shot past the outstretched Linus Ullmark to finally record his first career NHL goal, while also scoring arguably the biggest goal of the season so far for the New York Rangers, and that just may well be the spark and the jolt of confidence that the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft needs to kick on and really start to take the NHL by storm.