NHL on NBCSN: Comparing Lafrenière’s first 10 games to previous top picks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the second year in a row the Rangers’ rebuild was boosted with a major stroke of draft lottery luck when they won the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and the right to select Alexis Lafrenière. It came just one year after they moved up from sixth to second in the lottery and selected Kaapo Kakko. Both players figure to be significant parts of their rebuild and have the potential to be All-Star level players. They are not at that level yet, but both players are still only 19 years old and bursting with potential.

For now, let us focus a bit on Lafrenière because he is the most recent selection and is actually the No. 1 pick.

It has been a slow start for him as he enters Monday’s game against the Islanders (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) with just a single goal in 10 games. That goal was a 3-on-3 overtime winner against the Sabres and is, as of now, his only NHL point.

[Watch Live: Islanders vs. Rangers, 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN]

It is a slow start for sure, but it is also not something to be overly concerned about, either. We have been spoiled over the past 10-15 years with some top picks that stepped right into the NHL and immediately dominated. Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin all come to mind. But they are exceptions. Not the rule. Not every teenager is going to show up and put up huge numbers on the first day. There is always a learning curve and a growing process, and sometimes it can take longer.

With that in mind, let’s look at Lafrenière’s first 10 games offensively compared to every other forward since 1990 that was taken No. 1 overall and what they did through their first 10 games.

Some interesting numbers in here.

While there were some top picks that had similarly slow starts in recent years, you have to go all the way back to 1997 and 1998 with Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton to find a top pick with a similar stat line. Thornton, for example, did not record a point until his 22nd NHL game! Their careers turned out just fine.

[MORE: Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

When you look more recently, Lafrenière’s goal and shot totals are in the same ballpark of a lot of recent picks. We are talking maybe one or two goals and a handful of shots difference in a lot of cases. The big difference is the fact that Lafrenière has yet to record an assist and is not getting any helpers. There is an element of bad puck luck there. The Rangers are only scoring on three percent of their shots at 5-on-5 play when Lafrenière is on the ice despite the fact they are creating some chances. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers are averaging 2.4 expected goals per 60 minutes and more than 11 high-danger scoring chances. Both of those numbers are among the top-five of all Rangers forwards this season.

It is just important to remember that these players develop at different paces. Matthews scored four goals in his first game and never slowed down. Stamkos scored two goals in his first 22 games (both in the same game) and had four at the 41-game mark before scoring 19. in the second half. A year ago Jack Hughes was invisible for most of the season. This year he is an impact player for the Devils and looks to be on his way to being the star the Devils expected him to be.

As long as those chances keep coming, the goals will eventually follow. For both Lafrenière and his teammates.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.