Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere benefitting from coaching upgrade

New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) scores the game winning goal in a shootout against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

This season has been an exhilarating one for the New York Rangers. Among the standout players enjoying a renaissance year and redeeming themself is Alexis Lafreniere.

This season has seen him perform at a career-high level, displaying significant improvement compared to previous years. A notable factor in his resurgence is attributed to the coaching change from Gerard Gallant to Peter Laviolette.

Lafreniere struggled to fit into Gallant’s system

One of the issues Lafreniere faced under Gallant was that he didn’t fit into his system. It was evident that he was a poor match, worsened by Gallant’s habit of frequently moving him across multiple lines. Placing him on the fourth line was a particularly bad idea as Lafreniere isn’t suited to that role and performs better on the second or third line.

Constant line changes can significantly impact a player’s confidence, and unfortunately, Lafreniere struggled to develop strong chemistry with any consistent line, except for the occasions he played alongside Artemi Panarin.

However, Gallant’s continual shifting disrupted that chemistry as well which was a problem when it came to playoff time last season. As a result, Lafreniere’s poor performance in his first two seasons appeared underwhelming, and his potential seemed to be overshadowed.

Firing Gallant was a great decision for the Rangers

After the Rangers’ disappointing playoff performance resulting in their elimination, the decision to fire Gerard Gallant surfaced. Many analysts and fans labeled this move as a ‘scapegoat’ firing, suggesting it was a tactic for New York Rangers President and GM Chris Drury to save his job. Surprisingly, Gallant’s dismissal turned out to be the best decision the Rangers could have made, especially in regard to Lafreniere, as it ultimately salvaged his career with the Blueshirts

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Lafreniere has improved under Laviolette

What’s notable about Laviolette’s management of Lafreniere is the consistent placement within the lines. While injuries have affected some forwards, like Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, Laviolette has refrained from frequently shifting Lafreniere across various lines.

His decision to pair Lafreniere with Panarin, a successful partnership from Lafreniere’s initial two seasons with the team, has been one of Laviolette’s effective strategies. It’s evident that Lafreniere is finding comfort within Laviolette’s system, displaying more aggression and seamlessly fitting into Laviolette’s forward-focused offensive approach.

Lafreniere is a big example of why coaching still matters in the NHL. The coaching changes have notably benefited Lafreniere, emphasizing the importance of allowing time for NHL prospects to mature and grow. His performance now mirrors the potential the Rangers initially saw when they selected him first overall, making his two-year contract extension appear like a fantastic deal for the team.