Once again, the New Jersey Devils find themselves with the possibility to pick #1 overall in the Draft should they win the lottery. As it stands right now, the team could have 3 first round selections as John mentioned in yesterday’s post. Their own pick which is currently #6 is the one that could potentially move up to #1 should they win the lottery. Unlike previous years where there was a debate about which prospect should go first, this year’s draft is clearly led by budding superstar Alexis Lafreniere, an elite, highly skilled offensive player from Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. This profile is going to look at Lafreniere’s game to see why he is considered the best prospect in this year’s draft by the scouting community.
Who is Alexis Lafreniere?
According to his QMJHL page, Alexis Lafreniere is a 6’1”, 194 lbs. left handed shooting Left Wing from Saint-Eustache, Quebec. He was born on October 11, 2001 thus making him 18 years old at the time of the draft. Moving over to his Elite Prospects page we can learn more about his pre-QMJHL days. His youth team was his hometown AHM Saint-Eustache club. He dominated bantam hockey in the 2014-15 season with Mille-Îles Seigneurs Bantam AAA of the Quebec Bantam AAA Hockey League (QBAAA) with 12 goals and 7 assists in 27 games as a 13 year old (bantam hockey includes ages 13-14). In 2015-16, he once again played for the Mille-Îles Seigneurs in the QBAAA and put up a league leading 35 goals and 34 assists in 26 games. That was 10 more points than 2nd place Nathan Legare had and Lafreniere did it in 7 less games (2.65 Pts/GP vs. 1.79 Pts/GP). Lafreniere even made 2 appearances for the Mille-Îles Seigneurs Mdgt Espoir team, a level that saw players up to 3 years his elder. He wrapped up his youth career in 2016-17 with the Saint-Eustache Vikings of the Ligue de hockey Midget AAA du Québec (QMAAA). As a 15 year old playing against players up to 2 years older than him, Lafreniere produced a league leading 33 goals and 50 assists in 36 games. He was well ahead of second place Samuel Poulin by 15 points and Lafreniere did it in 3 less games (2.31 Pts/GP vs. 1.74 Pts/GP). All of this success would lead to the Rimouski Océanic drafting Lafreniere #1 in the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft.
In 2017-18, Lafreniere would make an incredible impact as a rookie for Rimouski with 42 goals and 38 assists in 60 games while averaging 3.42 shots per game. This put him 2nd in rookie scoring that season, 2 points back of Filip Zadina who was 2 years older than Lafreniere. In the playoffs he would continue to excell with 4 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. He would earn CHL Rookie of the Year, QMJHL Rookie of the Year, QMJHL Offensive Rookie of the Year, QMJHL First All-Star Team, and QMJHL All-Rookie Team honors. That season also saw Lafreniere make his mark on the international scene. He had 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games for Canada Red U17 at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which earned him a Silver Medal and All-Star team honors. Lafreniere also represented Canada U18 at the U18 World Championship with 4 goals and 2 assists in 5 games.
The 2018-19 season would see further success for the offensive dynamo. In 61 games he had 37 goals and 68 assists while averaging 3.41 shots per game. This put him 3rd in scoring across the whole league which is very impressive for a 17 year old. In 13 playoff games he had 9 goals and 14 assists. He earned CHL Player of the Year, QMJHL Most Valuable Player, QMJHL Personality of the Year, and QMJHL First All-Star Team honors. On the international level, he helped Canada U18 capture Gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August with 5 goals and 6 assists in 5 games as the captain. He made Canada’s U20 roster that winter to compete at the U20 World Championship where he had a goal in 5 games in a minor role.
In his draft season of 2019-20, Lafreniere continued to produce at a crazy pace with 35 goals and 77 assists in 52 games while averaging 5.02 shots per game and serving as team captain. At the time of the suspension of the regular season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Lafreniere was leading the league in scoring by 13 points over second place Alexander Khovanov. I should note that he did earn a 3 game suspension for this hit to the head in a January 26 game against Quebec that you can see here. Prior to that he did have an elbowing incident against Devils prospect Xavier Bernard in November that saw Lafreniere pick up a game misconduct. Keeping that stuff out of his game will be something to watch for as he goes to the next level. This past winter he helped Canada capture Gold at the U20 World Championship with 4 goals and 6 assists in 5 games. He did miss 2 games there due to a knee injury that at first looked but but ultimately was noting major. While his season came to an early end due to the global crisis that is going on, it can be said that he lived up to the hype in his draft season and cemented himself as the top prospect. Now let’s take a look at where he is ranked, what others have said about him, and watch some video.
Where is Alexis Lafreniere Ranked?
Lafreniere is ranked #1 across the latest rankings from Hockey Prospect (January), Future Considerations (March), ISS Hockey (March), Elite Prospects (February), The Draft Analyst (March), TSN (January), and Craig Button’s List (January). NHL Central Scouting splits their list between North American and European players as well as skaters and goaltenders. As expected they had Lafreniere as the top North American skater in the midterm ranking. He is without a doubt the top prospect in this year’s draft in the eyes of the scouting community.
What Others Say About Alexis Lafreniere
Lafreniere has been earning praise for a while, including back in September when TSN’s Bob McKenzie spoke to 10 NHL scouts when coming up with a pre-season ranking. One scout put it simply:
“Elite competitive instincts and all the attributes – size, skill, skating, hockey sense, goal scoring, playmaking, you name it – you look for in a No. 1 NHL winger, he has all of them,” one NHL scout said.
Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst has this scouting report of Lafreniere. Here is some of what he had to say about the elite winger:
Although there are many things about Lafreniere that scream elite, specifically his vision and deadly wrist shot, it’s his insanely-high compete level, tenacity on the puck, and selflessness that set him apart from all his peers. Play him on a line with equally-heralded or accomplished prospects, and he’ll make it a point to tap into their strengths rather than make himself the center of attention. Lafreniere is an excellent skater in all directions, but his powerful stride allows him to separate from opponents in open ice.
Lafreniere is a team-first leader who has made a profound impact on Rimouski. He is used in every conceivable situation, and his ability to dominate the puck no matter the in-game environment creates swaths of open ice for his mates. Lafreniere is an incredibly unselfish player, and his youthful exuberance when coupled with his physicality reveal a player of the throwback variety. Lafreniere seems to understand and execute set-plays on or off the puck, and he can be counted on as a reliable forechecker who creates turnovers in the neutral zone.
How can you not love that scouting report? It’s easy to see why Lafreniere is so highly regarded after reading that. Based on that report, it’s clear that Lafreniere has the potential to be elite in all areas of the offensive game from shooting, passing, creating space, and protecting the puck. He has shown the ability to bring out the best in his linemates and lead a team. I really like reading about how he has the skill but also the physicality to play that “throwback” style of play. Let’s check out what some others had to say about Lafreniere.
Prospect Pipeline has this comprehensive profile of Lafreniere. They list his strengths as “poise and composure, playmaking and on-ice vision, offensive creativity, and skating strength and puck protection.” They go on to explain these strengths further:
The one facet of Lafrenière’s game which arguably shines the brightest is his remarkable composure when in possession of the puck. Not pressured into making mistakes and capable of protecting the puck with ease, Lafrenière assesses all of his options in a calm manor before regularly passing the puck to fellow teammates positioned in a deadly locations of the ice.
The ability to create and implement high percentage scoring plays stands as the staple of Lafrenière’s game, as his ability to craft lethal opportunities not only leads to a wealth of team success but also improves the play of his fellow teammates in the process.
The final strengths of many which are persistently present within Lafrenière’s game are his smooth skating stride, stability, and general strength when traversing the ice. Although his technical and playmaking abilities are otherworldly, Lafrenière’s skills on his skates stand as the foundation of his game.
This is another glowing scouting report of his high-end skill and elite potential at the highest level. It certainly seems like these skills and his track record would lead to him making an immediate impact in the NHL and that he could be one of the best prospects to enter the league in recent history. They do mention his “shooting tendency” as a weakness as they would like to see more frequency from him. I’m not terribly worried about that as he did just average 5 shots per game in the QMJHL in his draft season. Sure it will be more difficult at the NHL level, but I think he has the skills and sense to figure it out.
Finally, Bill Placzek of Draft Site has this report on Lafreniere:
Off the charts hockey sense and imagination on offense starting with the 2018 World U-18s where he surprised his linemates with passes that could have been coming from a seasoned NHL pro. Fluid and fearless going inside the circles in the attack zone, where he steps out front to screen and set up for tip ins. Will be a solid attacking wing but might also find a home as a NHL centre with the way he easily makes his way inside. A smooth high speed heads up player who moves effortlessly through the attack zone with such good confidence and presence. There is no denying how quickly he lets the puck fly, and how decisive he is while possessing it. Will fire cutting towards the net, and always has his stick down looking for the puck. Strong and difficult to move and not adverse to giving as well as submitting.
Once again, I’m encouraged to read about how his hockey sense and creativity is able to be backed up by his offensive skills. That combination is necessary to help him take the next step and to do it immediately. I also find it interesting that Placzek thinks Lafreniere could perhaps even play center at the next level due to his playmaking abilities.
A Little Video
The first video comes from Puck Daily on YouTube:
This highlight package of his 2019-20 QMJHL season is long as he did put up a whopping 112 points in 52 games. I won’t go through every goal or assist but it does feature his vision and passing ability around the 0:27 mark as he rushes the puck up ice and sets up a teammate to score in an odd man rush. At 1:04 he leads a rush up ice in 3v3 overtime situation by utilizing a deep give and go that he finishes off to give his team the win. That is quickly followed up by him showcasing his vision and passing again to set up a teammate for a goal by switching play with a cross ice pass that puts the defense and goaltender off balance. At 10:49 you can see him carry the puck into the offensive zone, protect it down low from a defender, and deliver a one-arm, cross ice pass to a teammate for a one timer that would eventually lead to a goal. He makes a similar play at 14:12 when he carries the puck in the zone and protects it past 2 defenders to set up a teammate for a goal. For a natural goal scorer, I am really coming away impressed with his playmaking and passing abilities. Finally, at 17:39 he has a highlight reel goal where he carries the puck into the zone, uses his hands in tight to get past a defender, and quickly get it past the goaltender. There are many more highlights in this video but it’s clear that he has a ton of skill and the size that should make his NHL transition easier than other prospects.
The next video comes from bigwhite06 on YouTube which highlights Lafreniere’s 2018 Hlinka Gretzky and 2019 WJC tournaments. Once again his full skillset from his vision, strength, hands, shooting, and playmaking are on display. He earns high praise from Craig Button in this video too.
An Opinion of Sorts
As I said earlier, I view Lafreniere as the unquestionable top prospect in this year’s draft. I mean no disrespect to Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier but I think Lafreniere could have a higher ceiling than either player. If the Devils are fortunate enough to win the draft lottery again, then I think it’s a clear decision that Lafreniere is the pick. He would be able to speed up the Devils rebuild by years with how well his game should transition to the NHL level. Regardless, whichever team ends up drafting Lafreniere is going to get a potential franchise player and he’ll be entertaining NHL fans for years to come with highlight reel plays on a consistent basis.
One thing I really like about Lafreniere is how he has been playing under the microscope for years and has risen to the occasion time and time again in the QMJHL and on the international stage for Canada. His hockey IQ is elite, his skills are elite, and he is capable of leading a team on and off the ice. His ability to make his linemates better or to take over games on an individual level make him a very dynamic player. I like that he has the high end skill to play a modern style but also has the physicality to protect the puck or himself out on the ice. It remains to be seen if his physical play could lead to more trouble like he had this previous season in the QMJHL, but overall I can’t say that it worries me. I’m looking forward to seeing how his career pans out since he could be a force in this league for the next decade plus.
What are your thoughts on Alexis Lafreniere? In your opinion, is he the clear top prospect in this draft? What parts of his game stand out the most to you? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!