This is the Alexis Lafrenière the New York Rangers Have Been Waiting For

This is the Alexis Lafrenière the New York Rangers Have Been Waiting For

I always hate writing stories like this, because I worry about unknowingly putting bad vibes into the universe and tempting fate, but in this case I think we can start to say that this version of Alexis Lafrenière is the one the New York Rangers have been waiting for.

The same Alexis Lafrenière who fans were anxious about heading into this season, and the same Alexis Lafrenière who took some heat for playing softball during the summer when he should have “been working on his game.”

Through 13 games Artemiy Panarin, and I’ll have a story on him soon, has been far and away the best player to step on the ice in a Rangers sweater. Dare I say that Lafrenière has a rightful claim for being in the conversation of second-best Blueshirt early on in the 2023-24 campaign? Some of you probably thought about Chris Kreider first, and that is a fair point. Some of you might feel that extoling the virtues of Lafrenière’s play reeks of recency bias on the heels of his first three-point game as an NHL player.

While the numbers that populate the primary stats page of NHL dot com are a method in which many fans judge players, Lafrenière’s production this year has been strong when you look at the underlying numbers too. And it is those underlying numbers that explain why he is also among the team leaders in traditional offensive metrics.

For starters, Lafrenière has a 58.2 GF% (10th), a 61.73 CF% (1st), and a 57.2 (xGF%) in 5v5 situations per Evolving-Hockey.  He is 2nd on the team in 5v5 points with 7, 2nd in 5v5 goals with 4, 6th in total points with 9, and 3rd in total goals with 5.

And yes… I know that luck has certainly been on his side thus far with his actual goals outpacing his projected goals according to models like MoneyPuck’s, but some of that has been because Lafrenière is going to the place where a lot of goals are scored. 5v5

He’s currently shooting 22.7% in all situations, and while that is certainly unsustainable, it is worth noting that he shot 17.9% as a rookie, 17.3% in his second season, and 11.9% last season. Lafrenière may be a player who prioritizes quality over quantity, and in the process have a higher shooting percentage than most.

Some of this has been a product of him being a bit of a better skater so far, and an example of that is this goal from last night where he started a give-and-go and got moving up the ice and in perfect position to receive a pass.

High shooting percentages and sustainability aside, if/when his goal scoring does slow down, Lafrenière is still a damn good passer and playmaker, and a hard worker that cares. Against Detroit he was active along the boards, and earlier on this shift he had another great feed that Panarin just missed. Thankfully it didn’t become another “lost Laf assist” because he was able to win this battle and get it to Panarin.

Lafrenière is looking similar to the player who was in the thick of things during the Rangers run to the Eastern Conference Final, and he’s really enjoyed playing with Artemiy Panarin.

We saw flashes of this last season, on a line centered by Vincent Trocheck, but the line was broken up by Gerard Gallant because of an inability to put the puck in the net after doing everything else right.

Lafrenière and Trocheck also connected for a goal on Thursday, and it is something the Rangers would like to see continue.

Eartly returns from the reunited line have been positive so far, and there’s a good chance it will remain together when Filip Chytil returns from injury. From an eye test perspective, Lafrenière is playing some of the most confident hockey of his career. The traditional numbers on NHL dot com are positive, and so are his underlying analytics.

Right now everything is clicking for the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, and while he hasn’t quite produced like everyone expected when he was drafted, this is a positive start. I still think the potential for him to be a game changer exists, but right now he’s doing what he can within the confines of the team system. It is a team that features a lot of elite talent on the power play, and subsequently generates a lot of offense. If Lafrenière were a fixture on the top unit, it is possible that he’d be averaging over a point per game. But right now the Rangers are currently one of the best teams in the league, and Lafrenière has been one of their best players.

Development takes time, and if Lafrenière can continue to build on this, he will be an even more successful player and the Rangers will win hockey games which goes a long way toward the ultimate goal of trying to win a Stanley Cup. The early returns are worth celebrating, and it is nice to see that things are finally starting to click and he’s building on his efforts game after game.