Alexis Lafrenière is struggling and fans are all over him, even calling him a bust… at 20 years old. It is true that when you are the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, it comes with expectations. Some players were never able to live up to those expectations. Older Canadiens’ fans will remember Doug Wickenheiser, whom the team selected first overall back in 1980. Others will be more familiar with Alexander Daigle, while the youngest fans will certainly remember Nail Yakupov.
In all of these cases however, those players were never qualified as busts until later on in their career, not after two years in the NHL.
Adding fuel to the controversy is when earlier this week, the Rangers made Lafrenière a healthy scratch. While things like that may not be big news in New York, it sure didn’t go unnoticed around the NHL and even less so in Montreal.
I really like comparing Lafrenière to the Jonathan Huberdeau situation in Florida. The guy is in contention for the Hart Trophy this year but when you look back at his career, he didn’t start showing signs of being an impact player until his fourth season in the NHL. Sometimes, even top prospects need to mature, fill in, grow into a bigger role. The step is huge between the NHL and other leagues, particularly for kids that are 19-20 years old.
True that Huberdeau was a third overall pick, not the very first pick in the Draft but honestly, that means nothing. Why? Because it doesn’t take into consideration the quality of the said Draft years. Lafrenière may not have been the first pick had McDavid, Matthews, Laine, Eichel, MacKinnon, Barkov, been in that Draft.
Here’s what Huberdeau and Lafrenière have done in their first two seasons, although Lafrenière’s season isn’t over yet, so he will likely add to his totals.
In his first two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 22 goals and 54 points total, even spending 19 games in the AHL in his second year. He was selected first overall back in 2011. Aleksander Barkov, selected second overall in 2013, had 24 goals and 36 assists in his first two seasons in the NHL.
Could Lafrenière turn out to be a flop, or a bust down the line? Yes, there is a possibility. But let me ask you this: is there any certainty that the Canadiens’ future first round pick will be an impact player? The correct answer is no. With Lafrenière, the answer is simply two years closer to be known.
If he ever becomes available, Kent Hughes has to be all over the Rangers. In a Draft where there isn’t a clear cut consensus number one pick, trading that pick for a guy with two years experience under his belt, therefore two years more ready to have an impact, is something worth considering, at the very least. And when that player is from Saint-Eustache, QC, it is worth a very, very serious look.
Could you imagine, with the Draft held in Montreal, Gary Bettman comes to the podium as it’s the Canadiens’ turn to pick, and announces: “We have a trade to announce: the Montreal Canadiens trade their first pick at this year’s Draft to the New York Rangers for Alexis Lafrenière.” And the crowd goes wild… or crazy!