How shut are we to commonly mentioning Alexis Lafreniere and Alexandre Daigle in the identical breath?
Feels a bit hyperbolic, proper? But ask die-hard New York Rangers followers how they really feel about that. Their beloved franchise’s No. 1 total choose from the 2020 NHL draft had 52 factors in 135 video games over his first two seasons after debuting in 2020-21. That was good for 260th amongst NHL gamers, putting him within the 77th percentile. Through Daigle’s first two NHL seasons, he scored the 88th most factors within the league, putting him within the 90th percentile.
I’m largely simply stirring the pot right here. The expectations heaped on Daigle following the 1993 NHL draft had been a lot bigger than any hype round Lafreniere, whom scouts thought of a can’t miss star slightly than a famous person or, like in Daigle’s case, a generational expertise. But the thought of Lafreniere as a “bust” has rattled round my head over the previous a number of days, ever because it was a subject in my colleague Nick Alberga’s weekly Daily Faceoff fantasy mailbag. It sparked a prolonged Royal Rumble of debate spilling over into Twitter. Some followers had a revisionist concept that Lafreniere was certainly a generational expertise and thus a crushing disappointment to this point in his profession. Others felt it was unfair to slap a bust label on the child at 21.
What can we make of Lafreniere’s profession to this point? Which mob has the appropriate concept: The detractors or the defenders?
Perhaps the higher query to ask first is: Are we even able but to correctly consider what Lafreniere is?
By the tip of the 2020 draft 12 months, he distanced himself decisively from Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle for shoo-in No. 1 standing. Lafreniere tore up the QMJHL with the Rimouski Oceanic and was the third draft-year participant ever to win MVP honors on the World Junior Championship. But the COVID-19 pandemic critically messed along with his trajectory. He performed his remaining recreation of the QMJHL season on March 8, 2020. Under return to play protocols, the NHL’s shortened 2020-21 season didn’t start till January 2021. The New York Rangers opted to not ship Lafreniere to the 2021 World Junior Championship, which I argued was a large mistake on the time.
By the time Lafreniere joined the Rangers for his first NHL coaching camp, he hadn’t performed a aggressive hockey recreation for 10 months. It could be ignorant to imagine that didn’t set him again in any respect. Was it any surprise that, as a 19-year-old with an unprecedented layoff, he had one objective and no assists in his first 15 NHL video games? So earlier than we go any judgment on the beginning of his profession, we’ve got to acknowledge the arrested growth. It’s virtually like we’ve got to knock a 12 months off his hockey life. Think of him in 2022-23 as 20, not 21. Can we name a 20-year-old a bust?
Looking strictly on the numbers by way of Lafreniere’s first two NHL seasons…OK, positive, they’re not nice to say the least. In 2020-21 and 2021-22 mixed, 443 NHL forwards performed at the very least 500 minutes at 5-on-5. Among them, Lafreniere sat 351st in pictures per 60; 341st in particular person shot makes an attempt per 60; 366th in particular person scoring probabilities per 60; and 338th in particular person anticipated objectives per 60. He barely registered a pulse however nonetheless managed 31 objectives over these two seasons because of the fifth-best taking pictures proportion of that 443-player pattern.
Among Ranger forwards? He had the ninth-best shot try share and ninth-best anticipated objective share over that span. So he was grading out as simply barely ok to crack the third line, not to mention the highest six. He additionally had a chicken-and-egg scenario to beat with reference to his position, in fact. He noticed virtually no energy play work and couldn’t even common 14 minutes of ice time in his first two seasons, whether or not his coach was David Quinn or Gerard Gallant.
But are all this stuff nonetheless true about Lafreniere in 12 months three of his profession? The floor stats might say so. He’s amassed a paltry three objectives and 10 factors in 23 video games. But every part appears to be like completely different underneath the hood. Check out the pattern in his 5-on-5 play driving and the place he ranks amongst NHL forwards.
He has made large leaps, from rating close to the underside of the league to grading out as properly above common, roughly a second-line degree. Sure, we are able to attribute a number of the change to the corporate he’s stored. His most frequent 5-on-5 linemates this season are Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck, and his play-driving metrics are stronger with them than with out. But it takes an excellent participant to maintain up with good gamers, and their metrics are additionally higher with Lafreniere than with out.
We’re seeing some actual evolution to his recreation. And it’s reminding me of the breakout we noticed from the person taken first total the season earlier than Lafreniere: Jack Hughes. His first season within the NHL was a battle, however his play driving metrics exploded in Year 2 earlier than a serious star flip in Year 3. Have a have a look at Hughes’ first two seasons:
Hughes’ floor stats had been simply so-so in 2020-21: 11 objectives and 31 factors in 56 video games. It didn’t appear like he was bettering, however his play driving was smoldering underneath the floor.
If we strike Lafreniere’s first season from the books due to that 10-month layoff and examine Lafreniere in Year 3 to Hughes in Year 2? We see some stunning similarities.
Hughes was enjoying at a excessive degree in 12 months two however didn’t go supernova till the next season. So possibly, even when we’re not seeing the floor outcomes change, it’s too early to name Lafreniere a bust. He’s producing way more probabilities this season however he’s been snakebitten with a taking pictures proportion plummeting to six.7. If he retains creating the best way he has to this point in 2022-23, the factors will come. Even in the event that they don’t? He’s undoubtedly been a greater participant in Year 3 and will escape considerably in Year 4.
Don’t quit on Alexis Lafreniere.