NY Rangers film room: Why was Lafreniere benched? What about his skating needs improvement in 2023?
Gerard Gallant made a few heads turn when he decided to bench Alexis Lafrenière . This went over with the fans about as well as you would think, as his replacement was much maligned Sammy Blais. Parking Blais and his play aside, I thought it would be worth a quick dive into possible issues surrounding Lafrenière and why he may have gotten singled out, despite most of the roster coming out flat against the Washington Capitals.
Now I know I covered many of Lafrenière’s issues last season, most of which haven’t been corrected. And I don’t want it to seem like I’m dumping on the kid. However, Gallant himself offers few insights into his decision making, so I thought it would be worth a quick review.
Right now, Lafrenière’s biggest issue is skating. His posture is too hunched over and his turns and pivots (due to his mediocre edgework) aren’t top 6 material. All of this creates an inability to really separate himself from his check.
Here’s a perfect example of what I am talking about posture-wise. Look at how hunched over he is. His head and back should be more in-line with this yellow line I drew. When you’re hunched over like this, you lose your ability to generate more powerful strides because your center of gravity is too far forward.
But Suit, is this fixable?
Of course it is! Brian Boyle had the same issues back in the day. One off-season Tortorella sent him to see famed power skating coach, Barbera Underhill. Suffice to say, that probably helped save his career.
Neutral Zone Coverage
Another area that likely pushed Gallant to scratch Lafrenière was his inconsistent play in the neutral zone. This is an area of the ice that most TV analysts overlook. However, how you execute between the bluelines (the modern day neutral zone) dictates which endzone you end up playing in.
Yea skating issues, conditioning, plus you get lazy plays like this in the neutral zone with him. At some point you have to look in the mirror. #NYR pic.twitter.com/2ZNZfVV2CB
— The Suit (@thehockeysuit) December 29, 2022
Here against the Flyers, Lafrenière lets Travis Sanheim blow by him in the neutral zone by trying to make a play on the puck, instead of taking the body. This could also be another lowlight of his skating, as suspect edgework can cause mistimed gaps, which this most certainly is.
But Suit, is this fixable?
Yes, my haute couture friends. It is. And there’s no better example of this than Filip Chytil, who couldn’t win a board battle his first couple of years in the league and is now one of our better two-way forwards. Given, Fil’s issues were more due to his frame than his skating, but he’s massively improved nonetheless.
Is benching Lafrenière the right solution?
The long-term answer is no. Lafrenière needs to play to improve upon some of these issues. With that said, I don’t think you can do a 180 on these things midseason. There just isn’t enough time to really focus on individual skills.
For the short-term, it never hurts to have a struggling youngster take in a game every now and then from the press box. Whether or not this becomes a more regular occurrence will likely depend on how Lafrenière’s practices go, his attitude, and his relationship with his coaches and teammates.
Those are all things we do not have access to, so I have no opinion on those matters. However, beats like Arthur Staple can usually shed light on what’s going on behind the scenes and will be worth following as we approach the deadline.