Things are starting to fall into place for Alexis Lafreniere.
The No. 1 overall pick in last fall’s NHL Draft didn’t get off to the fastest of starts. He was seven games into his professional career before he earned his first point, the overtime goal that gave the Rangers a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 28. It would be another nine games before he earned his second point, a goal in a road win over Washington on Feb. 24.
But the points are beginning to come now. Beginning with that Washington game, Lafreniere earned six points (three goals, three assists) in the next six games, including five (two goals, three assists) in a four-game point streak before he was held without a point Saturday in the Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Devils.
"At the start of the season, you know, you always want to produce offensively, as an offensive player,’’ Lafreniere said in a Zoom call with the media after practice Friday. "But I was trying to keep my composure. And I knew it was gonna come. I wasn’t playing my best hockey, I know, the first couple games. But as the season . . . the games, started going, I was better, I think. And it’s for sure the game is getting a little bit slower and I’m getting used to the pace a little bit. I still have things to improve and I’ll work on it in practice and games.’’
Rangers forward Chris Kreider suggested that part of the reason for the slow start was Lafreniere’s commitment to taking care of his defensive responsibilities first before looking for his offensive opportunities.
"There’s another guy who was very defensively responsible and conscious on the season and wanted to play the right way,’’ Kreider said. "I mean, I was so impressed, early on, by the little things he was doing in the ‘D’ zone. And you just you knew the offense was there and the offense was going to come along.’’
Lafreniere said he indeed was thinking defense first when the season started. He also noted the fact that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams had only a 10-day training camp and no preseason games to help iron out any wrinkles.
"I think I have to play offense like I always did, but you can’t forget your defensive zone,’’ he said. "And we have a good [defensive] system here. So a new system at the start of the year, maybe sometimes you don’t really know what to do.
"But now I’m getting really comfortable and, offensively, defensively, I know much more what to do. So it’s getting easier for me.’’
Lafreniere, 19, has fit in seamlessly on the ice, the bench and in the locker room. Coach David Quinn has mentioned that he is always smiling and that he sometimes comes into the locker room "hooting and hollering’’ after a big win
Lafreniere said he feels comfortable with "the boys,’’ and his comfort seems to extend away from the rink. He is sharing a place with fellow rookie K’Andre Miller, with whom he has become close friends.
"We’re spending a little time together and, at the rink, with the boys, it’s always really fun to be around,’’ he said. "There’s not much to do outside of the rink, but I’m still trying to enjoy it a little bit.’’
Lafreniere was asked if there is any rivalry between himself and Miller — who has quickly shown himself to be one of the team’s best defensemen — in terms of being the best rookie on the team.
"No, not really,’’ he said with a half-laugh. "We’re not talking that much about this. You know when we’re not at the rink, we’re talking about hockey, for sure, but [also] everything in life. He’s a good friend of mine, so we’re not competing against each other. We’re competing with each other and trying to win.’’
Kravtsov hot in KHL playoffs
Vitali Kravtsov is among the scoring leaders in the KHL playoffs with two goals and an assist in his first two games for Traktor Chelyabinsk in a first-round series against Salavat Yulaev.
Kravtsov, who averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time in Traktor’s first two playoff games, is set to join the Rangers after Traktor’s playoff run is over.
But it may be a while before he joins the Rangers. Traktor and Salavat, the No. 5 and 4 seeds in the East Conference, are tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven series, which shifts to Chelyabinsk on Sunday.
Games 4 and 5 are Tuesday and Thursday.
Whenever Traktor’s season is over and Kravtsov comes to New York, he will need to serve a seven-day quarantine before he can join the team for practices.
Hartford-Bridgeport game postponed
The Rangers’ Hartford farm team had its AHL game against the Islanders’ Bridgeport affiliate postponed on Saturday because Hartford had what the AHL described as "roster constraints.’’ Hartford had several players leave the team to return to their junior teams in the Western Hockey League, which has started play.