Alexis Lafrenière was expected to be a top contender for the Calder Trophy during his rookie season, and in an unlikely twist of fate, the New York Rangers 2020 No. 1 overall pick failed to garner a single vote come awards season. When all was said and done, Lafrenière ended up with a line of 12-9-21 in 56 games played, while averaging 13:53 a game.
His somewhat underwhelming performance and diminished playing time was something that former head coach David Quinn was criticized for. Gerard Gallant is a coach who had success in Florida balancing opportunities for young players and veterans, and Lafrenière was one player who was expected to benefit from the change. The Blueshirts have played just about a quarter of the 2021-22 season, and now is a great time to check in on Lafrenière, and how things have gone for him under a new bench boss.
Before getting into the numbers, so far it has been an interesting start, to say the least. There have been notable moments, like Gallant saying he wanted more from “Laffy”, putting him on the fourth line (even though it wasn’t done to send a message), and even some fire from the Rangers’ bench boss after being asked about Lafrenière’s deployment and playing time following a loss earlier this month. Throughout all of this, Lafrenière has handled things very well, always taking accountability and even stressing the need to be better ahead of a game vs the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Via Vince Mercogliano of USA Today:
I have to be better. Last game wasn’t a good game for me. It was a physical game, a tough game, and you’ve got to be able to win your battles one-on-one. It wasn’t good enough for me, so we’ll try to fix some things and get back at it Friday night.
There are no excuses of being young. I know what I have to do to play (well). I know what I can do, so I just have to do it every night. It’s hard, for sure, but there’s no excuses. You’ve just got to bring it and work hard every night.
Lafrenière has skated in 20 games for the Rangers, and has a line of 5-1-6 while averaging 13:24 per game, of which 11:16 is at 5v5, and is tied for second on the team in goals scored with Artemiy Panarin, and Kevin Rooney. Yep, Rooney is tied for second in goals... who would have thought that?
Here’s a game log with the number of shifts, and his total time on ice via Hockey-Reference.
Here you can also see the progression of all forwards in terms of TOI this season via HockeyViz.com.
Through 20 games last season, Lafrenière had a line of 3-2-5 while averaging 14:49 per game, of which 12:28 was at 5v5. The quickest takeaway here is that his ice time is down, but his goals scored are up. Yay for efficiency?!
Taking a look at things a little deeper, during his first 20 games last season, Lafrenière had a 0.48 goals per 60, an individual Corsi for per 60 of 10.34, and an individual expected goals per 60 of 0.78 while shooting 5.16 percent at 5v5 per Evolving-Hockey. In short, he was unlucky and not getting the results he deserved.
This season he’s posted a 1.33 G/60, a iCF/60 of 9.05, and an ixG/60 of 0.69 while shooting 8.17 percent. TL/DR: Lafrenière is pushing play at a slightly lower rate than he did last year, and more pucks are finding the back of the net. This is just one model, as for example, Money Puck has him at 0.76 xG/60, with 5 goals on 3.38 expected goals.
With that said, here’s a broader look at his respective lines through 20 games in each season looking at goals for, Corsi for, expected goals for, and the for and against numbers which make up the broader percentages.
50.8 GF% | 46.43 CF% | 52.35 xGF% | 2.44 GF/60 | 2.37 GA/60 | 3.02 xGF/60 | 2.75 xGA/60
36.26 GF% | 47.94 CF% | 51.85 xGF% | 1.65 GF/60 | 2.9 GA/60 | 2.78 xGF/60 | 2.58 xGA/60
I didn’t have room for formatting to include for and against concerning Corsi, and those numbers were 55.35 for, 63.86 against this season, and 55.82 for, and 60.62 against last season. The difference is that he is bleeding more attempts, but that could be more of a team thing than it is a Lafrenière thing.
New York was a bad possession team last season, and the same is true this year so it is better to evaluate Lafrenière by looking at his performance relative to teammates. Lafrenière is a +1.47 in Corsi Rel which is 8th among forwards, and puts him ahead of Artemiy Panarin (+0.32), Mika Zibanejad (-4.52), and fellow linemate Julien Gauthier (-8.78).
Lafrenière recently has been utilized on a third line with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier, and the line has looked pretty solid. It is the team’s fourth most frequent line in terms of 5v5 time on ice, and it has posted a GF% of 41.04, a CF% of 51.38, and a staggering xGF% of 67.45.
The line is certainly cooking, with not as much production to show for it as it deserves, but it is certainly something that could help Lafrenière take the next step in the coming weeks. This play from Friday’s game vs. Boston is exactly what you want to see out of the line.
Although, a stint back on the top line for Lafrenière would be worth trying as well, because it worked during a limited sample. The line of Lafrenière-Zibanejad-Kreider has skated together for 39 minutes, and has a GF% of 51.71, a CF% of 55.77, and an xGF% of 65.17. Barclay Goodrow was given a look on the top line after Sammy Blais suffered a season-ending injury, and was awful there. Right now Kaapo Kakko is there with Dryden Hunt taking his place on line two with Ryan Strome and Panarin.
Getting Lafrenière going even more should be a priority, and a promotion should come if he’s able to have continued success on the newest edition of the kid line. It would also help if Lafrenière started shooting the puck more, as he’s recorded just eight shots on goal over the last 10 games after posting 21 over the first 10 games.
Lafrenière was more of a playmaker than goal scorer in the QMJHL, but he still tallied 114 goals in 173 games played. And to that end, this season he’s got a lone assist. This isn’t exclusively a Lafrenière problem, because many players often get too cute trying to make the perfect pass instead of taking the shot. This is something Kaapo Kakko struggled with, and has gotten better with as he’s acclimated to the NHL.
I find this chart a good summary of where things are at for Lafrenière at this point, because it sums up who he is at this point in the season.
At evens, he’s offensively been better than he’s getting credit for while not being all that great defensively. That is also reflected in how Gallant has been deploying him, in a way to protect him.
The power play numbers are from a limited sample, and it is hard to draw conclusions from that when he’s skating just 1:37 per game on the power play. It is important to realize we are only 76 games into his career, not even a full regular NHL season, and he’s playing for a new head coach and trying to find his footing with new linemates. He’s also played only 20 games for Gallant, who very well could still be trying to find the best way to use him and let him grow.
It would be nice to see more out of Lafrenière at this point, but the signs of progress are there, and you can see him starting to put it together. Sometimes it is easy to get too in the weeds with prospects regarding production, their standing vs. others, and not see the big picture, and this tweet from HockeyStatMiner was an interesting one for me.
Really isn't that bad when you remember every. single. one. of Lafreniere's 27 points is at even strength.— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) November 27, 2021
76 games deep and he's even ahead of some other 1OA players (Stamkos-26, Tavares-23, Hughes-21) in this regard. https://t.co/Q4xn74FyAV
It is also important to realize that currently at even strength and the power play that Lafrenière is behind Panarin and Kreider on the depth chart. It is fair to be a bit underwhelmed at this point, but it would be more concerning if he were being given more opportunities whether it be playing time 5v5 or looks on PP1 and still failing to produce. Make no mistake, the long-term success of the Rangers are constructed will be determined by what type of player Lafrenière is. He has limited control on that in the interim. As a winger he is dependent on others, whereas if he were a center he’d be in a position to be more selfish just based on the nature of how most teams run their offense.
I’ll end this story by looking back on what I wrote at the end of Lafrenière’s report card back in July.
Alexis Lafrenière has a bright future, and he had an average first season in the league. His finish to the year was promising, and as I’ve said in other report cards, I feel that a new head coach will certainly be a benefit. Defensively Lafrenière has a lot to learn, but that will come with time and opportunity. Relatively speaking, he fared better in year one than Jack Hughes did with the Devils, and then the 2019 No. 1 pick turned in an amazing performance in year two.
The Rangers have 14 games in December, and 14 games in January as of now. It is going to be a sprint for the team, and it is going to require everyone pitching in, and it provides a perfect opportunity for Lafrenière to get going. The ideal outcome over the next two months will see Lafrenière get in a groove on his current line, and earn a promotion to the top line which hopefully lasts for the remainder of the season.
Stats via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.