Massive expectations were placed on Alexis Lafrenière even before he slipped a Blueshirt over his head by virtue of the fact that he was the No. 1 overall pick of the NHL draft. Expectations heightened because he drew acclaim for his production in the QMJHL that was similar to Sidney Crosby. It was a different situation than the year before with Kaapo Kakko, as Lafrenière was a clear cut No. 1 overall pick from start to post.
There was an acknowledgment that the situation Lafrenière was entering with the New York Rangers would be challenging, joining an NHL team starting the season late because COVID-19. Early on, you could see the rust.
Lafrenière was someone that was expected to challenge for the Calder Trophy, but he ended up not even earning a single vote for the award. If I had to sum up the collective feelings of hype heading into his season, and hope for next season when it comes to Lafrenière, I feel this gets the job done.
Lafrenière tallied 12 goals and 9 assists for 21 points and skated in all 56 games of his rookie season. He played just 13:53 a game which was a pretty low number, and at times his deployment during games was sporadic to the point where it was hard for him to get in a rhythm.
He got off to a slow start with 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points in his first 19 games (January & February) but started producing from March onward. He ended March with a line of 3-3-6 in 16 games, ended April with a line of 5-3-8 in 16 games, and tallied 2 goals while adding an assist for 3 points in 5 games in the month of May. There were flashes of brilliance and moments that made fans realize why he was drafted No. 1 overall, but on the whole I think it is fair to say that the overall experience was average and there’s nothing wrong with that.
In terms of Above Replacement metrics, Lafrenière was worth -1.7 Goals Above Replacement, and -0.3 Wins Above Replacement. This seems suboptimal, but it’s worth considering how poorly Kakko’s rookie season went in context. This isn’t to downplay his performance or excuse anything, but simply to provide context of how two top picks of the Rangers performed within a year of each other, as well as to point to how well Kakko rebounded after his “horrible” rookie season.
Here’s how Lafrenière staked up in his end of year player card, and what’s most encouraging is his xGAR number vastly exceeding his actual output which gives hope for a correction of sorts in 2021-22.
Lafrenière finished 18th among regulars with a Goals For Percentage of 48.7 at 5v5, 12th in Corsi For Percentage (46.63), and 11th in Expected Goals For Percentage (47.95). It’s hard to draw major conclusions based on how it was a tale of two seasons for Lafrenière, and also given the fact that he didn’t have consistent deployment or time on ice to work through his struggles.
Of rookie forwards who appeared in 10 or more games, Lafrenière finished 19th in average ice time at 13:53, less than notable top prospects such as Dylan Cozens (14:21), Gabe Vilardi (14:45), Trevor Zegras (15:24), Nils Höglander (15:27), and Tim Stützle (15:44) among others.
It is worth mentioning that Buffalo, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vancouver, and Ottawa don’t have as much high end NHL talent on the wings, but even if David Quinn wanted to shelter him at 5v5, he could have boosted Lafrenière’s ice time by giving him chance on the powerplay.
This is something that should change under new head coach Gerard Gallant, and I imagine the former QMJHL Coach of the Year will better utilize the former QMJHL and two-time CHL player of the year. His work ethic and defensive acumen is something that will certainly be appreciated, and that could certainly help him take his next step as an NHL player.
Grade: C | Banter Consensus: C+
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.
As I made mention to in the intro, fans have seen recent No. 1 overall picks such as Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid hit the ground running as rookies, and wanted that instant gratification. But it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s OK. There’s still every reason to be excited about him as a player, and confident that in his second NHL season which should be as “regular” a year as possible will be one that features improvement. Lafrenière was involved in some memorable moments this season, and you can expect more of those to come this fall.