Rangers: Is Alexis Lafreniere’s top-six role in jeopardy?

New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers will begin their 2023-24 campaign tomorrow evening with game one of the regular season. With the line projections becoming clearer with each practice held, it appears likely that Alexis Lafreniere will begin the season in a top-six role.

Newly hired head coach Peter Laviolette has stated he wants to be the coach to finally give the kids their time on the Rangers’ top lines, and it seems those thoughts are becoming a reality.

With an underwhelming preseason showing, questions and concerns have begun to surround Lafreniere. He tallied just one point in the exhibition games and did not exhibit any sign of improvement from last season’s terrible playoff run. With the regular season just one day away, Lafreniere’s top-six role could be in jeopardy.

Lafreniere is set to start the season on the Rangers’ second line

While Kaapo Kakko has seemingly claimed a spot on the first line, Lafreniere will begin the 2023-24 season on the Rangers’ second. In the final practice before opening night, the former first-overall draft pick was slotted alongside Artemi Panarin and Filip Chytil.

Playing with a superstar such as Panarin should help Lafreniere hit the ground running. It’s been seen in the past where Panarin elevates other players to even higher ceilings, with names like Vincent Trocheck and former Ranger Ryan Strome having inflated point totals. If there’s anyone who can help Lafreniere begin to produce, it’s Panarin.

Lafreniere also has familiarity playing with Chytil, as the two were both members of the infamous “kid line”. Chytil remains the most developed member of that line, so he too should have an uplifting effect on Lafreniere.

There’s the chance that Trocheck could make his way back up into the top six, but he would not be a downgrade whatsoever. If Lafreniere fails to succeed with the amount of tools for success the Rangers are giving him, there’s the chance he could be demoted back down to the third line.

Cuylle could make a push for the top six in his rookie season

The Rangers saw an unexpected surge of talent from prospect Will Cuylle throughout training camp. He forced his way into the Blueshirts’ lineup and is now projected to start the season as the third-line left winger.

Laviolette has said he’s overly impressed by Cuylle’s abilities and plans on giving the 21-year-old forward a hefty chunk of ice time. And, although Cuylle is a natural left winger, Laviolette has made plans to test his abilities on the right side.

“It is something I’m considering,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of Cuylle playing on the right. “I’m going to wait and see how things shake out with regard to health, but I think he had a very good camp. With the opportunity of players not being in the lineup, you’re looking at the lineup and you need to fill holes and put things together. So he’s gotten an opportunity on the right and he’s looked good in practice.”

via Mollie Walker of NY Post

If Cuylle continues to excel during the regular season, it’s possible that he could work his way up into the top six. Someone would need to be demoted to the third line, and Lafreniere seems like the most probable player.

Laviolette is letting Lafreniere attempt to prove the doubters wrong, but if he continues to disappoint, Cuylle could very easily take that opportunity from him.

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