If 2020 has proven anything, it should not be taken lightly. Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton will not make a verbal commitment last night on the scheduled top selection of Alexis Lafreniere, and with two months until the draft, he will not do the job of if he does not perform his due diligence on other players and potential trading options.
But it will be one of the most shocking moments in draft history if Rangers deliver his first effective winger on 9 October.
The last person to pick the first master from Rimouski Oceanic was Sidney Crosby in 2005. Hence, comparisons between him and Lafreniere are inevitable. Any discussion about whether Lafreniere is fit for Crosby̵7;s career should be immediately and ruined. However, there are still similarities in the style of play that are worth checking out.
Like Crosby, Lafreniere’s greatest asset is her brain. He thinks on ice at an elite level. Hockey is still a highly structured and rigid game, but coaches are slowly allowing more unorthodox approaches and roaming from position, especially for an extreme player. Smart states can be trusted to make their own reviews, such as Lafreniere. The result is a left-winger in many ways acting as a center-back, who – once the confrontation happens – commands the play from the outside and regularly cuts inwards to take on multiple responsibilities. rather than winger.
Lafreniere’s hockey vision and feel are elite. Those are broad terms – if not ambiguous – so let’s break down a few different examples of what that means in his case.
He usually doesn’t provide output support or area flying like the winger would normally do on breakout. Instead, he goes back to collecting puck and on point guard duty.
And look at that precise passing ability. The average player who floats past the neutral area or crosses the mid lane over the opponent’s club is often a source of nightmare for a coach, and Lafreniere will have to tighten a bit ahead of highly competitive levels than. But he is one of the few players who can get away with it, because he has the rare ability to read tapes and sew hands.
He will also pick out a defense to set up high-percentages shots in the attack area. Here’s an example of him doing a slot play, which I’m sure to make Steve Valiquette happy.
These types of play would be encouraging for an average prospect, but for Lafreniere it’s the boring part. The common point of the NHL players is that they are all strangely good. I mean, even the most mediocre NHL players can stand in the training ground and hit their targets with incredible precision. What makes the connoisseur’s elite stand out is their ability to set up motion pictures and conceal their intentions.
In this example, it is not enough to say that Lafreniere passed the ball correctly; What creates scoring opportunities is that he keeps his feet moving and can perform those plays while doing so. He doesn’t lose any speed while changing his body position, both in terms of his skating abilities as well as the speed at which he bounces off those passes.
His specialty is deception. Just like a pitcher who had the same quick release of a ball and swapped places, there were no “words” in his game. His body movements are fast and efficient, he seems to have an eye on the back of his head, which is a damaging combination for defense. The constant movement means new lanes open all over the ice, and he has the vision to see them out of the corner of his eyes and hands to make a pass before the defense can read the gameplay. and adjustments (# 11 of these clips).
His club handling adds another dimension. The ability to predict loopholes combined with incredible dexterity means he can expose defenders with bad angles in defense or those who try to be aggressive with him.
As a scorer, can he keep up with the likes of Auston Matthews and Steven Stamkos? Not even close. Anyway, is he a player who could and should have scored 30 points in the early days? Sure. Lafreniere will not tear blistering shots in front of the goalkeepers. However, his scoring has many ways.
He has enough shooting prowess to keep the opposition honest from the top of the circle. Like Crosby, what he lacked in his swing speed, he compensated with the same deception and precision. At one point, he nonchalantly grabbed his puck with his cane, and the next time, he easily snapped his wrists and floated the top shelf before anyone could react. He uses similar body prostheses on his passes to open up lanes for him to shoot or execute shots on shot positions.
The last thing I will emphasize is the movement of Lafreniere. For all of the standout matches, Lafreniere usually gets on the scoresheet just by finishing the right place at the right time around the net. What seemed like easy goals was just that because of the thought and effort he put in when the goal came. He’s not afraid in the middle of the ice and he will drive to the net and fight through the traffic for scoring positions and find loose pads around the crease. That he is a skilled player does not mean just a “perimeter” or “east west” player.
My friend Jesse Marshall of The Athletic highlighted a great example of this.
Lots of Lafreniere’s highlights fancy but my favorites are the ones where he’s smarter than all the others. Like in this clip, going from a pitcher to a scorer with a powerful pass into the middle makes him crouch behind the defense. They didn’t even know he was there. pic.twitter.com/AginHa02by
– Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) August 10, 2020
Here are two other examples of my own.
In both clips, the shot is on the opposite side of the strike area and the game looks innocuous, with no apparent danger. But Lafreniere continued to move, predicting a growing hole in the slot and losing his man.
When I compare Lafreniere to Crosby in terms of style, I mean the variety of their offensive games. Think what Crosby’s real strengths are. Does he have a stellar shot, like Alex Ovechkin or Matthews? Is not. Is he an elite figure skater, like McDavid or MacKinnon? Is not. Does he have overwhelming strength and strength like Gordie Howe or Jaromir Jagr? Nothing.
Crosby’s strength is that everything is a strength and he has the brains to make the most of each. This is also true for Lafreniere in general. Some players are dominating because they have several moves that make the opposition powerless to stop. In Lafreniere’s case, he can beat you in many different ways. He controls the tempo of the game with his stick. He makes incredible tackles in space, and without space he finds a way to make it. As he moves the ball, he will keep his foot on the move and find the next spot to contribute. He is never out of the game and he is always a threat no matter the situation.
With all that said, what are Lafreniere’s perceived weaknesses? To answer this question, one must first understand that we are speaking relatively. Compared to average NHLer, Lafreniere is good at everything. Any criticism of his game has to do with the expectations of the first overall pick.
Skating is the “worst” part of his game. His agility is quite good but he lacks a boom. That was a plausible issue a year or two ago. Since then, he’s improved in that respect to the point where it’s on average now the worst by NHL standards. He has developed a reliable rate of decomposition at a grassroots level, but will that keep at the NHL? Not likely, though he is still only 18 years old and could improve a lot. That’s not a stumbling block, but skating is probably the best reason why Lafreniere doesn’t quite hit the same-generation outlook as Crosby or McDavid at the same age.
I’ve also heard some criticism about his defensive play. I don’t know if I personally buy into it. Like most teenage teenagers, he has work to do and – against lower levels of competition – his personal abilities could allow him to have some runways. for tactical mistakes.
His efforts cannot be faulted. He tests with enthusiasm and he makes a lot of attacks out of passes. The same instinct that leads to him creating the attack also helps him predict what’s about to happen in defense. He took his stick in the lanes and broke the game.
Although I have no doubt that some people will be in a hurry to prejudice him as “soft”, it really isn’t. Lafreniere is just as physically fit as he needs to be efficient. As mentioned earlier, he will drive in the mid lane when committing a crime and fight for the coins around the fold. At World Juniors, he set the pace of the match against America in their group stage match with some pretty big shots.
Maybe it won’t show up immediately as he moves from junior dominance to playing at the NHL, but as he matures I believe he will be a 200 foot tall player who might even be contribute to the penalty and be deployed to defend the lead positions.
Lafreniere was capable of beating Crosby and McDavid was definitely Celebrities before they reached the NHL, but he was a step lower. Certainly and more obvious than both Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko in the draft last year, and that’s not a criticism of those two. Lafreniere is the best player to overtake Canada Juniors since McDavid, and if there are any concerns about the level of competition then just look at his 10 points from five World Juniors games for Canada last winter. ; good enough to lead the entire tournament by points per game. If Lafreniere develops as expected – and there’s not much reason to doubt he will – Rangers will have a legitimate super winger who can challenge individual awards and as a striker Best in a longtime Stanley Cup candidate.
That ability is why Lafreniere is top player on every draft table, and that’s why the Rangers, even stacked on the wing, are as desperate as they are towards the center and defense, in any reasonable situation will take him away without being light. hesitant.