The New York Rangers have been rather disappointed in the lack of development from former 2020 first-overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere. Unlike many star players who have also been selected first, Lafreniere did not make an immediate impact on the team and has still yet to find solid footing in the NHL at the end of his entry-level contract.
Heading into the 2023-2024 NHL season, the Rangers are hoping this will finally be the year Lafreniere starts to mold into the star they expected him to become. However, based on the direction of his career so far, the Blueshirts must also brace for the possibility that Lafreniere continues to stagnate.
Lafreniere has shown little improvement throughout his career
In Lafreniere’s rookie 2020 season (which was shortened by the impact of the pandemic), the first overall pick only tallied 21 points in 56 games. Had he been playing at a similar pace in a full regular season, Lafreniere would still have only reached around 30 points in his first year.
The following season, Lafreniere only managed to score 31 points in 79 games. And in this most recent season, he only improved to 39 points in 81 games.
To worsen this blow, Lafreniere failed to produce a single point throughout the Rangers’ short-lived playoff run.
After playing three years in the NHL, the Rangers expected some sort of growth from Lafreniere. Rather than growing and becoming better over time, Lafreniere only improved 8 points over the course of an entire year. While the team hopes he’ll make a big leap in 2023, it’s possible that the Rangers may only see him progress slightly.
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The Rangers have Lafreniere buried in the bottom six
One of the key factors that led to the poor development of Lafreniere has been his diminished role. Starting his career under head coach David Quinn, most of the 2020 season saw Lafreniere playing all the way down on the fourth line. He’d occasionally have some time on the third, but there was very little room for growth.
Once Gerard Gallant was hired, Lafreniere became a steady third-line player, becoming a part of the infamous “kid line.” Filip Chytil broke out last season and Kaapo Kakko now has a top-six role under Peter Laviolette, leaving Lafreniere as the odd man out.
Projected to still play on the Rangers’ third line in 2023, Lafreniere has very little room to even attempt a breakout. His time on the ice will be significantly less than the top-six lines, and he’ll only be receiving power play minutes on the second unit.
“Lafreniere averaged 15:13 minutes of ice time last season. In each of the previous two seasons, he averaged under 14 minutes.”via Fansided
Until Lafreniere is given the proper ice time that a first-overall pick deserves, a breakout season seems unlikely.
Lafreniere has yet to sign a deal with the Rangers
It will be difficult for Lafreniere to lead a breakout campaign if he does not sign a new deal with the team. About a month ahead of training camp, the Rangers have still not re-signed Lafreniere to a contract extension. Although both the Rangers and Lafreniere’s agent have told reporters a deal is in the works, the timeline of this signing has become somewhat worrying.
With just under $2.3 million projected cap remaining, the Rangers must quickly work something out to bring Lafreniere back to the team. If a deal is not met, that would officially mark this draft pick as a bust and a waste of a first-overall pick.
To see Lafreniere sign elsewhere would be a major failure from the Rangers, and would set the team back immensely on their quest for the Stanley Cup. If all goes well, Lafreniere will soon sign a new deal and begin to break out in 2023.