It’s easy to grow impatient when the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft – whom the Rangers miraculously won in a lottery and was tabbed as a franchise-altering player – has just two goals through the first 17 games of his career.
But head coach David Quinn has worked with young hockey players nearly his entire career, and says that Alexis Lafreniere is trending in the right direction.
“I think he’s playing well, I think there’s certainly progress in his game,” Quinn said prior to Friday’s game against the Bruins. “He had some real good shifts against Philly and he’s practicing harder. Obviously, everybody points to the first pick overall and there’s a ton of pressure on these guys, but it’s a hard league at 18 or 19 years old, it really is.
“He’s learning the game, he wants to learn and he’s always coachable, looking for ways to improve and takes coaching well. I just like the direction his game is going in.”
While the 19-year-old’s first NHL goal was an easy tap-in on an impossible-to-miss pass from Colin Backwell in overtime against the Sabres on Jan. 28, his second tally against the Capitals last week showed off some of the highly-anticipated skills he was said to have.
Taking a strong pass from Artemi Panarin, Lafreniere showed off his quick hands – and decision making – right in front of the net to finesse the puck past Washington goaltender Vitek Vanecek.
Now that he’s getting time on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich in Artemi Panarin’s absence, Lafreniere is beginning to learn how to create more opportunities for his teammates and move without the puck.
But the reality is exactly what Quinn has continued to point out: Lafreniere’s NHL career is just 17 games old, and patience is required.
Filip Chytil won’t be in the lineup Friday despite practicing with the team for the first time this week.
Quinn didn’t shut the door on the possibility of the 21-year-old center getting back into the lineup against Boston on Sunday, but mentioned Thursday that the coaching staff had to see how he felt after sustaining a hand injury at the end of last month.
Quinn said the team has no plans to recall any player from Hartford Friday, but mentioned their lineup against the Bruins was waiting on “a couple things pending,” meaning either Kaapo Kakko or K’Andre Miller could be coming off the COVID-19 Protocol list.