We initiated SB Nation’s 2020 NHL Mock Draft on Thursday making the obvious selection, picking Alexis Lafreniere first overall. The Rangers, at least of the publishing of this article, also own the 22nd-overall pick in the draft after acquiring it at the previous trading deadline from Carolina in return for Brady Skjei.
With the 22nd-overall pick, on behalf of the New York Rangers, Blueshirt Banter selects Hendrix Lapierre, a center from the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
As we wrote on Friday, the Rangers are a rising team with secure management and as good of a young core as there is in the NHL, with Lafreniere adding to their excesses. As such, the Rangers have the luxury of taking a risk at 22nd overall, assuming they don’t trade the pick. Lapierre is perhaps the platonic ideal for that kind of gamble. The center began the 2020-21 season as a projected top-10 pick. He had a strong 16-year-old season in the QMJHL, posting 45 points in 48 games. He also dominated the Hlinka Gretzky Cup prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, showing off his ability to set up prime scoring opportunities for teammates in the offensive zone. Lapierre is also a strong defensive center who is active in the neutral zone and follows up on plays where his team loses possession.
So What’s the catch? Lapierre has dealt with multiple injuries of serious nature. He played in just 19 QMJHL games last season, and the nature of his absences draw red flags. He missed time with concussion-like symptoms and was later diagnosed with a major spine injury.
A lesser concern is that scouts didn’t get much of a chance to scout him last season. Yes, they got to see him in 2018-2019, where he excelled at a very young age, and his performance internationally was electrifying, but the ebbs and flows of a season offer insight that can be missed in short spurts.
The bigger concern is not so much about Lapierre’s ability, but whether he’ll ever be able to stay healthy long enough for it to matter. Head, neck, and spinal injuries are no joke and have to be monitored very carefully, and a player with that kind of history is one awkward hit away from hitting the shelf for the long haul.
If one could guarantee his health, Lapierre would go well before 22nd overall. He may still. In SB Nation’s mock draft, many teams understandably opted for players with more certainty. We felt that the Rangers have enough already in the organization that they could afford the risk. The team desperately needs young players with upside at center, and Lapierre is exactly that. He’s a legitimate option for the Rangers at tomorrow’s real draft.