As soon as the ping-pong ball with the New York Rangers logo came out of the machine, Jeff Gorton knew Alexis Lafreniere was the pick.
That happened on Aug. 10, and the Rangers general manager had two months to listen to other NHL teams call and try and gauge what kind of offer would make him move the pick. Gorton wasn’t budging, and Lafreniere is the latest piece in the franchise’s retooling.
The decision was made official Tuesday night when Gorton announced Lafreniere as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
It wasn’t the perfect scenario for the Quebec-born Lafreniere. If he had his wish he would have walked across the stage in front of a packed Bell Centre in Montreal to shake Commissioner Gary Bettman’s hand and put on his Rangers jersey and hat. But the soon-to-be 19-year-old had to wait to hear his named called and it was done virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was an unreal feeling,” Lafreniere said of the moment. “Obviously, New York Rangers is a great organization. For me, I’m really honored to join them. When I heard my name … we’ve been waiting for a long time. It was something really special for me and my family. We’re all really excited.”
With Lafreniere’s Rimouski ties, there are the comparisons to Sidney Crosby, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick who played two seasons there. But despite being asked about the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, Lafreniere continues to say he’s his own player. The Rangers believe that, too.
“He has big-moment capabilities, Gorton said. “He’s always come through in clutch times.”
Lafreniere will get every chance to make his mark on the NHL whenever the 2020-21 NHL season begins. The delay will give him more time to hone his game and get familiar with the Rangers organization. He feels ready to jump in and help make an impact.
“Physically I got a lot stronger,” Lafreniere said. “My game, I can create some scoring chances a lot. That’s something I’ll try to bring to the next level. “It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment but I’ll keep getting ready and when training camp starts I’ll try and be as good as I can and try to make a difference.”
It’s another offseason of change for the Rangers and Lafreniere’s addition brings added buzz to a team that many see trending upward. Artemi Panarin joined last summer, Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin took big strides, Mika Zibanejad had a monster year, and Kaapo Kakko got his feet wet. More moves are sure to come, especially after Henrik Lundqvist’s buyout.
There’s lot to be excited about on Broadway, as team president John Davidson offered this sales pitch about the franchise’s future.
“Come and watch us grow,” he said. “This is going to be fun.”