The Rangers have been not been major players in NHL free agency in 2020. But on Monday, the team announced its first major signing of the fall when it officially locked up No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere to an entry-level contract.
"It was a really easy process,’’ Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said of the negotiations with Lafreniere and his agent, Emilie Castonguay. "We worked with his agency and got things done really quick, here, and we're really excited about getting him signed and becoming a Ranger, and everything goes along with it. We’re looking forward to the first time we can actually see him on the ice.’’
When that will be remains uncertain. In his remarks moments before the draft began last Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is now targeting Jan. 1 as its start date for the 2020-21 season. That would suggest training camp would open sometime in December. Gorton said he doesn’t know how soon Lafreniere will be able to come to New York, but he is hoping perhaps sometime in early November.
Gorton, who spoke Monday, along with team president John Davidson, on a Zoom call with the media, said the Rangers have decided not to allow Lafreniere to play junior hockey for his Rimouski team in the Quebec league, which has already started its 2020-21 season. Gorton did not, however, close the door on the possibility of Lafreniere playing for Canada in the World Junior Championship, which is scheduled to be played Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
"Right now, our focus is, get him here as soon as we can, and have him start training, and be here and start focusing on the NHL season,’’ he said. "And then we'll take it as it comes, as far as the World Junior, or any other situation that might come up.’’
Lafreniere, who turned 19 on Sunday, signed a standard, three-year, entry level contract, which calls for an annual base salary of $925,000 (including a $92,500 signing bonus) and carries performance incentives that can reach up to $2.85 million per year, according to CapFriendly. The two-time MVP of both the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, Lafreniere led the QMJHL in scoring in 2019-20 with 112 points in 52 games (35 goals, 77 assists) and led Canada to the gold medal in the 2020 World Junior Championships.
According to the Rangers’ Twitter page, Lafreniere was issued jersey No. 13. The number he wore in junior hockey, 11, is retired by the Rangers in honor of Mark Messier and Vic Hadfield. And No. 10 (Artemi Panarin) and No. 12 (Julien Gauthier) are both currently in use.
Lafreniere has never been to New York, and the question was raised about what the Rangers would do about providing accommodation for him for the season. Gorton said the organization would find suitable accommodations, as it did with teenagers Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and others before him. Kakko, last year’s first round pick, stayed with a billet family near the Rangers’ Tarrytown, New York, practice facility, during the season.
Davidson offered up one option.
"If he wants, he's welcome in my house,’’ Davidson said.