Is the Rangers’ 2020 No. 1 overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, butt?February 1, 2021
Even with the delayed start to the season, and the much-discussed weirdness of it with no fans and only intra-division play, this was supposed to be a pretty exciting season for the New York Rangers. While the playoffs even in a normal set-up would have been something of a stretch, though they were only two points out of a wild-card spot last year when the season stopped, they were going to put on display the first beta-testing of a future power in the coming years. They have a Hart Trophy finalist from last year in Artemi Panarin, last year’s No. 2 overall pick and this year’s No. 1 overall in Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere, as well as two promising young goalies in Igor Shestyorkin and Alex Georgiev.
Is eight games enough to declare it all a failure? Of course it isn’t. Is that going to stop me? Probably not.
The Rangers have the second-least amount of points in the whole league, with only the Ottawa Senators propping them off the basement. Only one of their two wins has been in regulation. Also, Lafreniere hasn’t scored a goal with more than six skaters on the ice so far this season.
So, is he butt? Is one goal, and only during the carnival ride of 3-on-3, make him a bust? No, but the rest of the signs aren’t exactly encouraging. All of this is with the caveat that he’s 19, playing in an NHL season with an abbreviated training camp after not playing anywhere for nearly 10 months. So it’s all hardly been set up for him to succeed.
Still, Lafreniere has been getting pretty much clocked all season. HIs Corsi-percentage of 46.9, and his expected-goals percentage of 45.1, are both well below the team-rates for the Rangers. When he’s been on the ice, they’ve been backing up into their own zone far more than the rest of the time.
Part of the problem the Rangers have fallen into is that only two forwards can play with Artemi Panarin at one time, and they have a fair few who need to. Mika Zibanejad, Panarin’s running buddy last year that saw him produce 41 goals, has been Lafreniere’s center most of the time this year and they’ve worked about was well as anything Wile E. Coyote would unearth from a box marked “Acme.” All of Zibanejad’s output, whether points or the metrics, have fallen off a cliff. Whenever the two are split things have worked much better, as Lafreniere’s numbers in limited time with Panarin are improved.
But so have Kakko’s, who has been recently promoted to Panarin’s line and has seen his production skyrocket from his rocky debut season. Not everyone can be in the candy shop for the Rangers.
This probably isn’t anything more than what last year’s No. 1 pick, Jack Hughes went through. Hughes looked lost, or invisible, in his first season with the Devils. So far this year he’s been averaged better than a point-per-game. On the plus side, Lafreniere is among Ranger leaders in the amount of shots he’s attempting as well as his individual expected goals. He’s getting to the right spots, he’s just not making them count. A 7.7 shooting-percentage is likely well-below what he’ll average for his career when it’s all said and done.
A little more worrying for the Rangers is that Lafreniere is starting most of his shifts in the offensive zone, third-most among Rangers forwards, yet still ending up in the wrong part of the ice most of the time.
The real problem for the Rangers is that neither Georgiev or Shesterkin have been waving at oncoming pucks like being attacked by bees. Neither have a save-percentage over .900, and they’ve been especially woeful on the penalty kills (a .774 SV%, third-worst in the league). It would be even worse if the Rangers weren’t one of the more disciplined teams in the league.
The power play hasn’t bailed their counterparts out either, gurgling along at 14 percent so far this season. Lafreniere has featured on the second unit, but there’s been a steep dropoff from what the first unit creates to the second one.
Considering the setting of this season, the expectations should be even lower for the Rangers now. Their years are in the future. And the far bigger problem is if the goalies continue to look like beached whales. So no, Lafreniere isn’t butt. Yet.
Then again, maybe the Rangers’ problem was the general malaise in the dressing room, which they might have done their best to clear out today: