Despite struggles, it is too early to call Alexis Lafreniere a bust

Alexis Lafreniere bust? Not likely, at least not yet.

It’s only been two games since Alexis Lafreniere was elevated to the top line and top powerplay unit with Chris Kreider’s injury. The NY Rangers haven’t looked good as a team in either game, barely beating Dallas and having a huge letdown last night against Montreal. Lafreniere, like the rest of the team, hasn’t looked good in his new role. But despite the struggles, it’s too early to call Alexis Lafreniere a bust.

Lafreniere’s struggles are real and documented

This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken about Lafreniere’s struggles here. His play away from the puck is concerning, and very evident when you watch replays and focus solely on him. At the risk of re-hashing Suit’s entire analysis, his struggles boil down to three issues:

  1. Skating – his edge work, positioning, and posture are all off. It’s fixable, but Mark Ciaccio, the Rangers skating/skills coach, has done nothing thus far.
  2. Neutral zone forecheck positioning – he’s just bad all around, and his edge work is exacerbating the issue.
  3. Potential (rumblings) attitude issues

The first two are the real concern here, as he hasn’t had any progression in his first two and a half seasons. The Rangers have a skills and skating coach, but it seems to be more on the player than the coach, at least in this scenario, to fix the issues. Make of that what you will.

The reality is the struggles and lack of progression are on both organization and player. These are real issues that, if Lafreniere wants to succeed and avoid the “bust” term, he needs to address. Skating, posture, and edge work are all areas that can be fixed in the offseason with true coaching and dedication by Lafreniere.

This brings us to the rumblings, unconfirmed, about potential attitude issues. We’ve heard this from more than one source, but the exact wording was “rumblings.” Again, make of that what you will, and how much a lack of confidence can come off as attitude issues. It’s human nature to guard yourself if you’re lacking confidence in certain situations. Think of how some people retreat inwards if in an uncomfortable social situation. Same concept.

Lafreniere isn’t a bust…yet

It’s way too early to call Lafreniere a bust. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out areas that need addressing. Ice time is no longer the issue. He’s certainly miscast on PP1 as the net front presence, and that’s not fair to him, but he does have top line time with Kaapo Kakko and Mika Zibanejad to lackluster results in these two games.

The reality of the situation, unlike the Lias Andersson situation in which he is unfairly grouped, is this is a two way street. Not many want to acknowledge this, which again is human nature. It’s hard to side with a billion dollar organization over the 21 year old first overall pick. But like most growing pains, there is a need for better coaching and communication, along with more dedication and perhaps a conditioning adjustment by Lafreniere.

There’s nuance to Lafreniere, the “bust” word, and his development. Development isn’t linear, and just because one first overall pick took X years to develop doesn’t mean Lafreniere will too. Rasmus Dahlin took three full seasons before he put up double digit goals and a 50 point season. This year, he’s in the Norris conversation, in his fifth year in the league. Jack Hughes only needed two seasons. It varies by player.

Development is a two way street. The Rangers need to teach, and Lafreniere needs to be willing to learn. Both are in doubt right now. Lafreniere’s struggles are real, and the video is hard to ignore. With ice time no longer a legitimate question, what else needs to be done to make sure the Rangers properly develop their #1 overall pick?