Every time the television cameras show Alexis Lafreniere during Ranger games, he always seems to be smiling, laughing, excitedly patting someone on the helmet, or generally just having a whale of a time.
The 19-year-old insists he’s not playing it up for the camera. That’s just who he is.
"I've always been the same,’’ he said Monday after the Rangers’ practice in between their two-game set with the Buffalo Sabres. "I'm just happy when guys have good games, and when they make great plays. I’m just happy to be here, for sure, and, you know, with the group we have, it's always a lot of fun.’’
Part of what makes it fun is that the team right now is doing well, having won two games in a row and six of its last eight, and refusing to go away in the battle to make the playoffs. And Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2020 NHL draft, has been very much a part of that.
It was Lafreniere who put a perfect, cross-ice drop pass on Mika Zibanejad’s stick in Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Sabres to set up the first of Zibanejad’s three goals in that game. And in his last five games, Lafreniere, the St. Eustache, Que., native, has two goals and two assists, including a goal and two assists in his three games playing up on the left wing with Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
Rangers coach David Quinn said after Sunday’s game that Lafreniere’s recent success has come because "his work ethic has become more NHL-like,’’ and he said Monday he likes how the decision to switch Lafreniere and Chris Kreider – Kreider took Lafreniere’s spot on the Kid Line, with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko – has turned out.
"I think it's worked very well,’’ Quinn said. "I think Kreider, Chytil and Kaapo have played well. I think Laffy's done a good job with Mika and Buchie, and it just gives our lineup a little, a different look. I really believe that. I think it makes us look a little deeper, and there's a little bit more balance up and down our lineup.’’
Lafreniere, who played with Zibanejad and Buchnevich earlier in the season, was asked why he thinks the trio seems to be clicking a little bit more now than perhaps earlier.
"I'm maybe a little more used to the league, maybe, I would say,’’ he said. "I know a little bit more how to generate offense, and my confidence is a little bit higher, too. So [Zibanejad and Buchnevich] are two great players, and every game, every practice, they help me to get better, and they're two great guys to learn from.’’
Colin Blackwell, who went hard into the boards and appeared to hit the back of his head on the glass in the third period Sunday, did not practice. The team said he had a "maintenance’’ day. Quinn said Blackwell is day-to-day, though he hopes the winger will be available Tuesday when the Rangers face the Sabres again… D Jacob Trouba, who has missed three games with an upper body injury suffered against the Islanders last Tuesday, skated on his own before practice… Quinn said Igor Shesterkin will start in goal Tuesday.