Yeah, Alexis Lafreniere hasn't been good this year.
But how is he going to improve playing limited minutes?
In a game where the New York Rangers needed an offensive spark against the Toronto Maple Leafs (both teams had 23 points heading into Thursday), Lafreniere only played just 13:25 and registered zero shots on net. It was the sixth time over the past nine games that Lafreniere has failed to put up a shot in what has been a challenging stretch for the top pick from the 2020 draft.
That's not what the Rangers should be getting out of their top young forward. But his usage has been just odd, to say the least. Lafreniere struggled early on, recording just three points in his first seven games despite playing top-six minutes. It wasn't working, and Lafreniere has found himself playing fewer than 15 minutes over the past 10 games.
It has been one way or the other in terms of ice time. Maybe a trip to the Hartford Wolf Pack is in order. Even if it's for yo
That's far from ideal from your second-year player, one many expected to be a game-changer for a young, developing Rangers team. Lafreniere had just 12 goals and 21 points in 56 games as a rookie last year. He was given a free pass, for the most part: he made his NHL after a long layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Going straight from junior to the NHL is a challenge, let alone after eight months away.
But he's in his second year now, and things haven't really improved. He has four goals and five points in 17 games, with the youngster proving unable to record points in consecutive contests.
That lack of success can put unwanted pressure on an inexperienced forward. And it's clear in the 20-year-old's play.
It's probably still too early to be worried about Lafreniere as a prospect, but it's time the team shakes things up. Lafreniere's game in junior was more quality over quantity - shoot effectively, not just in bulk. For reference: Lafreniere leads the Rangers with a 22.22 5-on-5 shooting percentage. The issue? He averages just 5.37 shots-per-60, with just over one shot per actual game at 5-on-5 this season. The numbers suggest he can score - he's just not shooting, and Julien Gauthier and Filip Chytil are hardly the players to change that.
Why isn't he shooting? Good question. But perhaps a trip to the AHL could help his confidence. The Montreal Canadiens tried that with Cole Caufield, sending him to Laval earlier this month after a terrible start to the season. He's back up now and was slotted back onto the top line with Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki. The Canadiens were slaughtered by Pittsburgh on Thursday, but Caufield was one of the few bright spots.
The Rangers really need to consider that route for Lafreniere. His only pro experience has been the big show, and he has never looked overly comfortable or consistent. He's a great talent, and there's a reason why many scouts projected Lafreniere to go No. 1 many years in advance. There's still a lot of hope, but there's no need to just have him wither around deep in New York's lineup when he's unable to generate offense.
Give him the opportunities he needs to survive. Lafreniere is still really young. He doesn't need to be forced into the lineup if it's not working. Playing against NHL competition might be more beneficial in some cases than playing in the AHL, but offensive go-getters need to create offense to be effective. Lafrienre's defensive game leaves a ton to be desired, and playing in the AHL can allow him to A) score and B) work on his defensive game without hurting the big club.
Is scoring against inferior competition worse than playing a more limited role against better competition? Depends on who you ask. But when you got a guy that's used to putting up big numbers, you want to get that spark ignited again.
Even if it's just for a short while, it might be worth a shot. Get Lafrienere back on the right track after an unusual start to a career during unusual circumstances. Lafreniere had to face more than most No. 1 picks in NHL history just to make their debut, and it was lackluster. The Rangers are a good team and can afford to send Lafreniere down to get the reps in he needs to be more impactful on a daily basis.
It's worth a shot, right?