Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere reveling in first playoffs as he ‘elevates’ game
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It has been impossible to overlook Alexis Lafreniere this postseason.
And that’s not just because he has been at the heart of the Rangers’ most consistent line, or because of his under-the-radar pesky presence on the ice. The 2020 first-overall pick has been strikingly noticeable, on and off the ice in these playoffs, because he undoubtedly is having the time of his life.
That’s naturally what happens when a Canadian kid is competing in his first career NHL playoffs, but the way it has come through in his play has made Lafreniere stand out.
“Laffy’s personality, he just goes out there and has fun,” head coach Gerard Gallant said during the Rangers’ first-round playoff series against the Penguins. “I think it’s rubbing off on the other two.”
The other two Gallant is referring to are Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, who complete the Kid Line and skated alongside Lafreniere for the first eight games of the postseason. The trio has been most effective in the offensive zone, skating with a lighthearted way about them that has been both enjoyable to watch and difficult for opponents to contain.
It has been encouraging to watch Lafreniere, who has had the overwhelming expectations of being a top NHL draft pick, make an impact while allowing his emotions to fuel him.
Did you see that perfectly timed photo of him celebrating with his tongue out after the Rangers evened their second-round series against the Hurricanes? How about his little dance in the tunnel at PNC Arena ahead of Game 2?
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The 20-year-old is evidently having a blast, and his passion to be great has seemingly been at the root of it.
“Laffy has been really good,” Ryan Strome said. “He’s elevated his game. I think he competes really hard. He obviously has special ability, which is coming out lately in a big way.”
Aside from all the fun, Lafreniere has upped his physical presence in these playoffs as well. He may not be marking up the score sheet (he had two goals and three assists in 12 games heading into the elimination Game 6 against Carolina on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden), but he has played a tough game that has gotten under his opponents’ skin.
THAT TIME. pic.twitter.com/sPD9j7Bjn1
Lafreniere was ranked fourth on the Rangers in hits with 32 prior to Game 6, behind just Jacob Trouba, Chris Kreider and Ryan Reaves. He has consistently finished his checks, has been a presence on the forecheck and has been found in the middle of scrums at times.
“Yeah for sure, I think that’s a big part of playoff hockey, physicality,” Lafreniere said earlier this postseason. “That’s a part of my game, too. I try to bring it as much as I can, but at the same time, I still have to make plays and play with the puck.”
There are plenty of positives to take away from the Rangers’ performance this postseason, and one of them is certainly how Lafreniere embraced such a grand stage. Oh, and he had a ball doing it.
“It’s a lot of fun out there,” Lafreniere said. “To compete with these guys, it’s really nice. … We just keep having fun and keep being ourselves.”