Utterly speechless. For the first time since 1965, the New York Rangers will be selecting 1st in the NHL Entry Draft. With the season that the Rangers just had, it is insane that this was even a possibility. Nonetheless, here we are and we couldn't be happier.
The last time the Rangers held the 1st overall selection back in 1965, they selected André Veilleux, who ended up never playing professional hockey. This time however, I anticipate things going very differently, and here's why:
Alexis Lafreniere, consensus 1st overall pick, has been one of the most highly touted prospects ever, drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby, future Hall of Famer and arguably one of the best players in the world. Lafreniere is most definitely creating his own legacy however. As a rookie in the QMJHL, Lafreniere used his elite talent and solid frame to pot 42 goals and 38 assists for 80 points in 60 games played. Since that season, the amount of awards and accolades won by this player are utterly insane and way too numerous to recount but it should be noted that Alexis won CHL Rookie of the Year and then went on to win CHL Player of the Year in the following 2 seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic scoring 297 points in 173 games in that 3 season span. That places him at about 1.72 points per game! Absolutely disgusting.
As stated by Kyle Pereira of "Puck Prose", one of Lafreniere's strongest attributes is his hockey IQ. He is able to read plays and find open areas on the ice much faster than those surrounding him, which puts him at a huge advantage and allows him to formulate plays out of a seemingly dead situation. Lafreniere also has incredible vision and does a very good job at finding the best passing option available. As any player though, when two or more opposing players pressure him, he often makes bad reads and tends to give up the puck. On top of his incredible vision and IQ, his stick handling skills are other worldly. Often described as extremely creative yet rather simple, Lafreniere is able to use his hands to score highlight reel goals as the one below.
On top of his extraordinary skill set, let's not forget that Alexis is 6'1'' 193 lbs and he is in no way afraid to use his body. He often helps win corner battles, and is a huge threat in front of the net on the power play when pairing his large frame with his excellent hand-eye coordination. With all those amazing attributes going for him, Lafreniere still has his weaknesses. Many scouts scrutinize his defensive zone game. Lafreniere tends to get caught puck watching in the d-zone which leads to him floating out of position more often than not.
With all of these above average attributes, there is no question that Alexis will be playing in the NHL next year. Adding him to an offensive corps that is oozing with talent, the Rangers squad will possess some of the most dynamic forwards the league has seen in a very long time. If developed the right way, this Rangers squad could end up possessing one of the best forward corps this league has ever seen. Lafreniere can slot into the 2nd line slot playing with Strome/Chytil and Panarin, and eventually maybe even moving up to take Buchnevich's spot on the first line (who has been extremely frustrating to watch in my opinion). On the power play, Lafreniere has been used as a player at the top of the circles, controlling the play and moving down low if needed. On the Rangers power play, I think he could be used in front of the net as well because Panarin is lethal from the top of the circles and with Lafreniere's frame and ability to stick handle in tight, he seems like the perfect option down low.
For the longest time, the Rangers notoriously lacked a consistent goal scorer and fans longed for the franchise player who they can rely on day in and day out. Management also believed we needed a player like this but instead of growing a talent at home, the Rangers would make trades for star studded players that never seemed to really pan out. With the announcement of the full upheaval of the current squad back in 2018, fans hopes for a Stanley Cup were lost and a lot of suffering was anticipated for years to come. Two years later, the Rangers find themselves with MVP candidate Artemi Panarin, the chance to draft a franchise changing player, and possess one of the youngest, most talented, and dynamic rosters in the NHL.
Here's to the next chapter in New York Rangers Hockey. May it be the best one yet.