The 2020 NHL Draft will welcome the next wave of future stars to the league this week, with the first round kicking off Tuesday night. It's been a long, strange road to get to this point and, like almost everything else, the draft process has been thrown a little out of sorts thanks to the chaos of 2020.
A draft in October and a "playoff" team earning the first overall pick through a two-stage lottery is hardly par for the course. But even with the oddities attached to this year's draft, and with all due respect to the entire group of incoming prospects, this year's class will likely be defined by the guy at the very top: Alexis Lafreniere.
This is one of those years where it seems to be one prospect and then everyone else. There's been almost no debate over who's going to have their name called first, as Lafreniere has been the consensus top pick for some time.
So, who is this 18-year-old kid and why is he seen as such a slam dunk? Let's dive in and get to know the NHL's newest young star.
As you may have guessed from his name (Ah-lex-ee La-fren-yere), Lafreniere is Canadian and grew up in a predominantly French suburb in Quebec. He was drafted first in the 2017 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League entry draft by Rimouski Océanic and has spent the past few years dominating the QMJHL. In his rookie season he scored 42 goals in 60 games, the highest goal total for a rookie since Sidney Crosby (ever heard of him?) scored 54 for Océanic in 2004. In his two seasons since that rookie campaign, Lafreniere has posted 72 goals and 217 points in 113 games.
Lafreniere's skill set is so impressive that he's viewed by many as a potential generational talent and franchise cornerstone on the wing. He's a well-rounded player that brings elite offensive skill and playmaking ability but can also contribute away from the puck. Here's some glowing praise from respected prospects writer Corey Pronman of The Athletic:
"He has truly elite skill and some of the best hands I've ever seen. Lafreniere has made some of the most creative plays I've seen in the past few years, and with his skill he's always a second away from a scoring chance. He beats defenders in unique ways and catches them off guard with the moves he makes. He's also a very good passer who makes quick, crisp passes, and his elite creativity translates to his playmaking. He has a great shot, too, with the ability to score from mid-distance. On the power play he's a menace due to how he can beat defenders 1-on-1, find seams or pick corners. Lafreniere is a highly competitive player who plays well in the hard areas of the ice, is solid defensively and plays physical."
Here's what EliteProspects had to say about him in their 2020 Draft Guide:
"As a puck-carrier, Lafrenière is a master at bending the defensive front and driving the puck through openings. He always maintains the same grip on his stick, forcing the opposition to guess if he's thinking shot or pass. Similarly, Lafrenière doesn't need to choose between pace or patience when determining his plans of attack; he can serve both masters at once."
One look at some of his highlights and it's easy to see where the hype comes from:
He's not the biggest guy (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) or the most physically imposing forward but his incredible skill set paired with a willingness and fearlessness to play tough, physical hockey makes him a dynamic threat.
In addition to his gaudy stats in the Q, Lafreniere has also been a fixture on Canada's national squad at various levels and international competitions over the past few years. At 16, he was the youngest player selected for Team Canada's U18 team at the 2018 World Championships and was named to Canada's World Junior Championship team later that year.
In his second stint at the World Juniors in 2019, he racked up four points in Canada's first game (a win over the United States) but was injured in the following contest. Still, he returned to Canada's lineup and accrued 10 points in five games en route to winning gold and tournament MVP at the WJC.
So, it's basically a forgone conclusion that Lafreniere will be drafted first overall by the Rangers on Tuesday night. How does he fit into their plans from that point on?
New York is in the middle of a rebuild that is moving along quite quickly and the addition of Lafreniere, who has superstar potential on the wing, should help them further expedite their path to being a contender. They have a number of young, exciting pieces that they're building around and adding Lafreniere will make their outlook even brighter, though they're likely going to need to prioritize getting stronger down the middle in order to maximize the immediate contributions of a young player like Lafreniere on the wing.
With all that in mind, there's plenty of reason for the Rangers to be excited about the direction of the team moving forward.