Rangers head coach David Quinn couldn’t have been more “right on” when addressing the expectations for the number one overall pick in the draft, Alexis Lafreniere. “No one is going to have more pressure than him,” Quinn said while addressing the media via a zoom call after the team’s first practice earlier today.
General George Patton was quoted as saying, “Pressure makes diamonds.” Maybe the Rangers have a gem in Lafreniere.
The sport of hockey is not as popular on a national scale as baseball, football and basketball, but here in New York, it’s a big deal, especially when you’re talking about the Rangers. For the first time in their 95-year history, the Rangers were awarded the #1 overall draft pick and they chose Lafreniere. From the moment the Rangers had the number one overall pick, it became a no-brainer that the 19-year old Lafreniere would be the pick. As evidenced by the overwhelming amount of social media posts, die hard Ranger fans were absolutely ecstatic and anxious to see this exciting young talent on the ice.
The fans are not the only ones who are excited. Teammate Chris Kreider loved what he saw from the youngster after their first day on the ice together. “Skill is very, very evident. He’s a ‘dog’ on the puck, hyper competitive,” Kreider said on a zoom call after practice.
Lafreniere is a power skater who is tough to knock off the puck. The Saint-Eustache, Quebec native has the ability to win battles along the boards and fight through a check when he carries the puck. He sees the ice and can be two steps ahead as far as anticipating a play. Quinn said, [Lafreniere] plays fast. [He is] strong on his skates, competes hard, world class talent.”
Lafreniere skated on a line with Filip Chytil and Julian Gauthier. So how was the first practice? “I felt good,” the 19-year old said. “We had a pretty good skate, pretty good scrimmage. I’ll get better as camp goes on. I’ll try and improve myself and improve my game.”
The 19-year old shows a level of maturity beyond his years. “Awesome kid. You forget how young he is,” said Kreider, who knows there will be a lot of pressure and big expectations for the youngster. Lafreniere has some very simple expectations. “I just wanna improve myself everyday and get better as a hockey player,” he said on a Zoom session after practice.”
The Rangers held their first formal practice earlier today at their training facility in Greenburgh, New York. With the season opener against the Islanders just 10 days away, there is not a whole lot of time to prepare. The regular season will feature a 56-game schedule with only intra-division games.
The Rangers are in a very tough East Division with their Metropolitan division rivals (Islanders, Flyers, Devils, Caps, and Penguins) but now they also get the Bruins and Sabres. There are eight games against each of the divisional opponents, a tough road to navigate if the Rangers hope to make the playoffs. Quinn knows it’s imperative that the Rangers get out of the gate fast. “You have to get off to a good start this year,” he said, “you can’t dig yourself a hole and avoid those losing streak.”
The divisional opponents will play each other eight times which could provide some fireworks among these rivals who don’t like each other. Now that Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal are not with the team anymore, the 29-year old Kreider is the longest tenured Ranger, but he’s never seen a regular season like the one that is scheduled for 2021. “It’s exciting,” Kreider said. “I expect almost a playoff style approach.”
It’s been a very long time since the Rangers have had this much young talent on their roster. You probably have to go back to the days of the “GAG line” of Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert.
With young talent like Lafreniere, Kappo Kakko, Chytil, Adam Fox and goalie Igor Shasterkin to go along with veterans like Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, the Rangers could be heading into an era of success like they’ve never seen before.
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