Lafreniere’s Struggles Continue Into the New Year


Alexis Lafreniere has struggled to live up to expectations. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The New York Rangers maintained their mild success beyond the halfway point of the season, now sitting in third place in the Metropolitan division behind the Carolina Hurricanes and the New Jersey Devils. The Washington Capitals remain hot on their tail, an interesting race to watch down the stretch. While they’ve started off the new year strong, with a 6-3 record since Jan. 1, glaring issues have presented themselves, especially in the performance of young forward Alexis Lafreniere.

The 2020 first overall pick began the season on a high note, slotting in with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck on the second line. The chemistry between the three was palpable, until Lafreniere’s underperformance moved him to the third line. He had success there too, with young center Filip Chytil, but he went cold as the winter months approached, with only nine points in 21 games through December and January. Head coach Gerard Gallant scratched Lafreniere for a game in December in an attempt to light a fire under him, but not much has changed.

Lafreniere is on pace to score more points this season than last, however not by much. For a first overall pick playing in his third season — a contract year, no less — expectations were much higher for him. Because of the Rangers’ draft lottery luck in 2020, they were able to take Lafreniere and incorporate him to an already talented roster with established veterans, yet it seems that it may be stunting his development rather than fast-tracking it. He rarely gets “top six” minutes, and he is never seen on the top power play or penalty kill units because of the many talented veterans above him. Lafreniere seems to be on the hot seat, and something will have to give. A trade may be in order, or Gallant needs to make a change somewhere in order to spur on Lafreniere’s development.

Lafreniere’s “kid” counterpart Kaapo Kakko, on the other hand, took a big developmental step in the offseason. After a strong start to the season, he moved up to the top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. His improved puck handling skills have been a major factor in the first line’s offensive production, even if he’s not getting the points to show for it. He is proof that fans may have to wait until next season to really see a positive change in Lafreniere’s game, as Kakko garnered similar concerns in his third season.

The final “kid” from the famed “kid line” in the playoffs is Chytil, who also took a major step forward in the offseason. He is a solid third line center for the Rangers, and can rival Trocheck for the second line spot later in the season if he continues to play the way he is. Also, as he is in a contract year, he is expected to get a major pay raise, ultimately raising questions for Lafreniere and his role on the team.

Meanwhile, the performance of Jaroslav Halak, the Blueshirts’ backup goalie, displayed impressive success at the start of the year. He won four of his last five games, with an impressive save percentage of 0.960 in his last outing. Halak completely turned around his concerning play from the beginning of the season, and seems to be back on track in the win column.

Lafreniere broke out of his scoring drought in the win against the Florida Panthers on Monday, with an assist and a goal midway through the third period. The “kid line” reconvened and played exceptionally in the win, and will likely remain together as long as they continue their winning ways. The Rangers look ahead to an exciting Original Six matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.