Alexis Lafreniere has been the clear-cut choice for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for some time now. But the soon-to-be 19-year-old winger’s wait to hear his name called has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Originally scheduled for June in Montreal, the NHL Draft was postponed until Tuesday and Wednesday this week and will be held virtually.
“It’s been a pretty long wait, couple months I’ve been waiting, didn’t know what to expect,” Lafreniere said during a recent Zoom call with reporters.
A year after choosing Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick, the Rangers will add to their youth movement with the Quebec-born Lafreniere. In 173 games in three seasons with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic, he put up 114 goals and 297 points. This past season, he recorded 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s report, Lafreniere is an “exceptionally smart player with top-end speed and pull-away gear. Great at carrying the puck and leading rushes. Executes under pressure and has great vision and anticipation – very good quickness with the puck and exceptional ability to change speed. Elite puck skills and vision to create plays in the offensive zone.”
[2020 NHL Draft: Date, time, order of picks for all 31 teams]
Lafreniere said he’s never visited New York, and we don’t know when his arrival on Broadway will take place with the 2020-21 season start date unclear. But when he does hit the ice he’s eager to take notes from Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin.
“He’s just really dynamic offensively,” Lafreniere said. “Every game I watched he was creating chances. I think he was one of the best players in the league this year. To maybe having the chance to play with him, it would be an honor and really special for me. I would try to learn as much as I can from him.”
The Rangers have spoken with Lafreniere several times during their draft prep and they’ve been nothing but impressed. As for a spot in the lineup, they’ll see how the lines shake in once training camps open.
“What we learn with young players is they’re all different and in some cases they’re more ready for that kind of role than others,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. “But you have to be very careful about penciling them into certain spots, your top six and whatnot. I think training camp, when it comes, will go a long way to tell us where our young players are and whether they’re ready for certain roles.”
The landing spot is a good one for Lafreniere. He won’t be joining a team that was first overall and in the middle of a rebuild. The Rangers are trending upward, and there’s a good mix of veteran talent and up-and-coming youth that will aid in his development.
“The Rangers are a really big organization and really good team,” he said, “really good young team, so we’ll see what happens, but it’s a really exciting team for sure.”