With yesterday’s line changes by Gerard Gallant, Alexis Lafreniere appeared to be demoted to the fourth line. While many took the lines and line rushes as a potential healthy scratch for Jimmy Vesey, that is likely not the case. The phrasing by Vince Mercogliano, and this is not saying Vince confirmed it, just what Gallant may be thinking, means Lafreniere is possibly a healthy scratch tonight.
It’s clear from the clunker against Washington that Lafreniere drew the ire of the coach. And to be fair, he’s deserved it. He’s been inconsistent, showing spurts of success before reverting back to old form of carelessness and sloppy play away from the puck. Suit pointed out one such instance, and it’s plays like this that will keep a player out of a regular NHL job, regardless of draft position.
That’s Laf that gets beat in the neutral zone without even a small effort from the attacker. He took a bad angle and made a lazy stick play. Goal aside (that’s a goal that should be stopped), it’s the neutral zone play that’s been a problem. We can talk “confidence boost” and “play the kids” all we want, but Lafreniere is the only kid to not work on weaknesses in his game.
Lafreniere as a healthy scratch may send a message, it may not. But with rumblings about a potential attitude problem –which makes you wonder how well teams were able to scout that 2020 draft due to Covid, but more on that at another time– combined with stagnating play away from the puck, there’s clear and documented proof that Lafreniere as a healthy scratch may be helpful.
Don’t misunderstand, while Lafreniere certainly needs to improve his consistency, part of Gerard Gallant’s job is to manage personalities. He’s not doing that, and his laissez-faire attitude to the locker room may be a detriment to some players that need a more hands on approach. There’s a message that Lafreniere isn’t getting, and the approach with him needs to change. His success is paramount to the Rangers rebuild being successful. Both sides need to wake up at this point.