NHL: Alexis Lafrenière has become a key piece of the puzzle

After having had his best career regular season, Quebecer Alexis Lafrenière continues to be at the heart of the New York Rangers’ success in the playoffs.

Selected first overall in the 2020 National Hockey League draft, Lafrenière arrived with a rebuilding team and expectations were high.

Lafrenière earned his spot with the team as a rookie at age 19 and finished with 12 goals and nine assists in 56 games following a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. He quietly increased his production over the next few years, totaling 28 goals and 57 points this year.

“There’s always, always a lot of pressure on these kids to come in and make an impact right away,” Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad said. The way he works, the way he believes in himself and… just the way he was able to work, it’s incredible. »

Lafrenière played with several linemates in his first three years. He was notably placed in a trio with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, nicknamed in English “Kid Line”.

This season, head coach Peter Laviolette placed him with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck.

Panarin had an excellent season with 49 goals and 71 assists to help the Rangers win the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the best team overall at the end of the campaign. Trocheck scored 25 goals and had 77 points.

With them, Lafrenière finished fourth in team goals, sixth in assists and fifth in points.

“It’s always nice to score, but I try to play a complete game,” said Lafrenière. Playing with “Troch” and “Bread” obviously helps a lot. I just try to find spaces and put the finishing touches when I get the chance. »

So far in the playoffs, this trio has been the most productive with 35 points – including 14 of the team’s 35 goals – in 10 games.

Panarin (four goals, seven assists) scored four game-winning goals and Trocheck (six goals, eight assists) scored three goals in each of the first two rounds. Lafrenière (four goals, six assists) allows the Rangers to have five players with at least 10 points.

“This line has been extremely productive for us, and they play an important role,” Laviolette said. [Lafrenière] plays with Artemi, who turns out to be one of the best players in the league, and [Trocheck est] a workaholic who gets a lot done. »

“But you can’t ignore what ‘Laf’ is doing with his skills and how he’s grown throughout this year. He is becoming more and more confident as the season and playoffs progress. »

Chris Kreider, who scored a hat trick in Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, also praised his 22-year-old teammate.

“He has incredible habits for a young man,” he said. He always shows up at the rink, just wants to get better, wants to make an impact, wants to win. [C’est un] incredible player, we are incredibly happy to have him. »

The Rangers will face the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Final starting Wednesday and try to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 10 years. Their last Stanley Cup was in 1994.

They could benefit from the return of forward Blake Wheeler, who has been sidelined for three months with a leg injury.



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