VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alexis Lafreniere has three goals in 10 games this season, tied with Barclay Goodrow for second-most on the Rangers, and two of Lafreniere’s goals are game-winners, giving him more than anyone on the team.
But apparently, it is not enough for Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. He wants more.
At the Rangers’ practice at the University of British Columbia Thursday, preparing to face the Oilers in Edmonton Friday, Gallant had Lafreniere skating on the fourth line with Kevin Rooney, Greg McKegg and Ryan Reaves, who is on injured reserve.
"We've had four guys on each (of the third, and fourth) line,’’ Gallant said. "We're not sure what we're going to do tomorrow for lines and lineup. But I just want the kid to -- he's a young kid, we want him to do better and, you know, make sure he's working hard.
"We chat with the kid every day, and (tell him), ‘You go out there and work hard and see what happens,’ ’’ Gallant continued. "He wants to do better, and we wanted a little bit more from him, too. And that's on both sides of the puck. He's a good kid, and I always go back to him being young. But you’ve got to grow up a little bit, and you got to play a mature game.’’
Lafreniere, 20, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, and was considered a generational player. He played in all 56 games last season as a rookie, and after starting slowly, ended up with 12 goals and nine assists. This season, he started out on the top line, playing with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, but he was moved off that line when Gallant decided to play Artemi Panarin with Zibanejad and Kreider while his usual centerman, Ryan Strome, was out of the lineup with COVID-19.
Lafreniere went back on the first line last week when Strome returned for the 5-1 loss to the Calgary Flames in Madison Square Garden, and Gallant singled out Lafreniere after the game, saying he needed more from him. After that, Lafreniere was dropped to the third line, with Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais, but after the Rangers’ 3-1 win Sunday in Seattle against the expansion Kraken, Gallant said he needed more from that third line in general.
The line showed more in the next game, against Vancouver on Tuesday, and the team did not practice Wednesday. Then came Thursday’s practice, at which Lafreniere was on the ice early working with the coaches on skating before practice.
Gallant was asked Thursday if he hoped putting Lafreniere on the fourth line for practice would send a message to the youngster
"No. It's about us trying to win games and putting him in the best spot available,’’ Gallant said. "So not really a message. I mean, you know, coaches make up lines every day, and if he takes it as a message, that's great. But like I said, I just want to try and put our best lineup out every night.’’
Notes & quotes: Reaves got through the whole practice and Gallant said he was encouraged, but did not know if the veteran enforcer would be ready to play Friday. Whenever the Rangers do activate him off IR, they will need to send someone down to AHL Hartford to open a roster spot for him.