It has not yet been a full calendar year since Alexis Lafrenière made his NHL debut. That anniversary is coming up on Jan. 14.
So even as a No. 1 overall draft pick, the Rangers’ winger needs more time to develop before the team and its fans know precisely what they have in him.
But current circumstances are offering a promising glimpse.
With Artemi Panarin out the past two games under COVID-19 protocols, Lafrenière has played with Ryan Strome and Barclay Goodrow, two seasoned 28-year-olds, and certainly looks like he belongs as a top-six forward.
In Monday night’s 4-1 victory over the Oilers, Lafrenière scored the first goal off a feed from Strome and made a lovely pass on the second goal, finding Goodrow.
Lafrenière is no Panarin yet, but the results bode well for a player who should be a centerpiece for the franchise into the mid-2020s and beyond.
"Laffy’s played great," coach Gerard Gallant said. "Sometimes he has a tough time, but when he’s playing with top minutes and getting on the ice a lot he makes a big difference. He’s confident. He feels good about himself and he’s happy to get a chance to go out there.
"Sometimes for those elite players and star young players, they’re used to playing 17, 18, 19 minutes [per game], and sometimes he doesn’t get that when he’s on the different lines. So it’s a growing thing. It’s a learning thing. He’s 20 years old. That’s part of it. He’s played really well and responded well with the ice time."
Lafrenière, who has eight goals and three assists, has averaged around 13 ½ minutes of ice time this season but has been significantly north of that the past two games.
"It’s an opportunity for me, for sure, to play more minutes, and I think just to play with Strome and Goody," he said after Monday’s game. "They know how to play the right way and it’s good for me to learn from them, and they always seem to find me in good spots so I can shoot the puck and it’s really good for me. It’s a lot of fun."
Asked what has changed for him, Lafrenière said, "I’m moving my feet a little more, making more plays, and holding on more to the puck. That’s my game and I’ll keep learning from the guys I’m playing with."
Strome credited Lafrenière for "screaming" for the puck on the first goal when he saw Strome behind the net stealing it away from Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen.
"He wants the puck, which is a good thing," Strome said. "He’s always calling for it. He’s finding those areas a little bit better now. Credit to him. He’s a good player. Obviously, we all know what he can do.
"He’s a developing young player in the NHL, which is a hard league, and he’s done a great job of staying with it and working hard. It’s nice to see him get rewarded, because I know as a young guy it can be frustrating at times."
Before Tuesday night’s games, the Rangers were tied with the Capitals for an NHL-high 48 points, and technically had the tiebreaker for No. 1 overall after three wins in a row over the Lightning and Oilers.
With the help of another No. 1 overall, they hope to be in the mix for that designation into early spring.
"We’re still young, for sure, but we can really play with these teams," Lafrenière said. "I think we’ve shown it in the last couple of games."
Reunanen recalled. Tarmo Reunanen has been recalled to the taxi squad and Matthew Robertson has been assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack.