It’s hard to guess who’s been waiting for this moment more — Rangers fans, or the player himself.
Months after being drafted first overall by the Rangers, Alexis Lafreniere will get his NHL debut on Thursday against the Islanders. He is, in a word, excited.
"I feel really good," the 19-year-old winger said. "Obviously [there are] a lot of nerves, but I think I’m really excited, really looking forward to tomorrow . . . It’s going to be a really special moment, for sure."
Though family and friends won’t be able to see him play live, they’ll all be tuning in from Quebec he said — even if they have to do it from different locations because of COVID-19. Lafreniere said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure from the intense interest he’s garnered from fans in the last year, and that playing in a pro game will be pressure enough.
"My first shift, maybe," he'll be nervous, he said. "I’ll try to have a quick one and we’ll go from there. I’m really excited to play with that group of guys."
Lafreniere said his biggest adjustment from junior hockey will be the speed of the game — something that could be especially jarring considering there are no preseason games this year. "Guys are a lot quicker on you and you’ve got to make quicker decisions," he said. "You’ve got to be ready to make a play as soon as you get the puck, so that’s something I’m working on."
Captain, no captain
The Rangers will again forgo having a team captain and instead opt for four alternate captains. The four leading the way are Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin.
"It might not be something that people want to hear, but I think a lot of the times, it’s more for the fan base," Kreider said of naming a captain. "At the end of the day, you need a big group of leaders to have any success."