Since the NHL Draft was implemented in 1963, the Rangers had the No. 1 overall pick just once before last year, drafting Andre Veilleux in 1965.
Veilleux never played an NHL game, so it’s safe to they’ll want to do a little better with their selection in 2020. The good news is that, in Alexis Lafreniere, they landed a player who could be one of the top NHL Draft picks in years.
Lafreniere scored 80 points (43 goals, 38 assists) as a 16-year-old with Rimouski in the QMJHL and followed that up with 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) and 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in his next two junior seasons. He also scored 10 points in five games for Team Canada at last year’s World Junior Championships.
There was nearly no doubt all last season that he would go No. 1 overall, the only mystery was where he’d end up. When the Rangers won the lottery, they knew they’d have a potential star on their hands.
“To finally be close to getting him on the ice is huge,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said on Saturday. “Usually when you have the No. 1 pick, you're on the ice in September with exhibition games and away you go in October. So we've had to wait a long time and the fans have had to wait, too.”
Head coach David Quinn hasn’t seen much of Lafreniere live on the ice yet, though he said he could report that they’ve had lunch and “he has excellent table manners and can order food properly.”
But joking aside, Quinn sees real star potential in his newest player.
“One of the things I love about him as athelete is, in addition to his world-class skills, is his approach to the game,” Quinn said. “There are a lot of characteristics you need to be a great player. Talent is one of them and he certainly has that, but the way he carries himself and his work ethic gives him the opportunity to be a really special player.”
Lafreniere will be forced to hit the ground running when the season gets underway later this month. Teams are in the midst of a condensed training camp and will not play preseason games, so when the Rangers host the Islanders in the regular-season opener on Jan. 14, it’ll be Lafreniere’s first real taste of the NHL.
Regardless, Quinn thinks the Quebec native is more than capable to succeed at the highest level.
“One of the things we focus on with our young players is to just have them come in and be the best players that they can be,” Quinn said. “It's a difficult league for a [19-year-old] no matter where you're picked, where you played or how much talent you have. He's certainly going to have every opportunity to take advantage of the skills that he has. He's been an elite player for a long time. I expect to come in here, work hard and earn everything that he gets.”