Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the Rangers shoots the puck against the Devils...

Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the Rangers shoots the puck against the Devils at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

OTTAWA – For Alexis Lafrenière, a visit to Canada’s capital for the Rangers game against the Ottawa Senators Wednesday wasn’t exactly as exciting as it would have been to go to his hometown of Montreal. But being a couple hours’ drive away from home was still pretty good.

“Yeah, my family’s going to be here tonight,’’ Lafrenière said after the Rangers’ morning skate at the Canadian Tire Centre. “It's not like home, but it's pretty close. So it's fun and it’s a big game for us tonight.’’

It was, indeed, a big game for the Rangers, who entered Wednesday reeling after having lost three in a row – and having blown multi-goal leads in the last two. A fourth straight loss, to the lowly Senators, would have set off alarm bells on Broadway.

For Lafrenière, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, Wednesday’s game was the second in a row in which he was going up against a young player to whom he is often compared because of draft status. On Monday, against the Devils, it was Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, who last year signed an eight-year contract extension worth $64 million. Wednesday, Lafrenière was up against Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle, who went No. 3 overall in 2020. He already signed an eight-year contract extension worth $66.8 million that will kick in next season.

At the rate he’s going, Lafrenière doesn’t figure to land that type of deal with the Rangers anytime soon. In three years in the NHL, the 21-year-old has 34 goals, 28 assists and 62 points in 158 games. Stutzle is 42-67-109 in 153 games in his three seasons.

Lafrenière was expected to take another step forward after he scored 19 goals last season and had a strong playoffs, as part of the dynamic Kid Line with Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil. But he has been relatively quiet through the first quarter of the season. He entered Wednesday with three goals and seven assists in 23 games. That projects to 11 goals and 25 assists over a full, 82-game season. Stutzle entered Wednesday with eight goals and 14 assists in 21 games.

But Rangers coach Gerard Gallant defended Lafrenière’s modest production as compared to his peers.

“He's playing well,’’ Gallant insisted. “I like the way he's playing and competing. Now, again … he hasn't had the same opportunity as some of the other young players. He comes here with a team that, we’ve got top-end players, and he doesn't get first power play time, and a lot of those other kids get that, because they're on bad teams in the past. Now you know, ‘Laffy’ and Kaapo don't get all those minutes and power play minutes. So I'm happy with them, they’re great development players and they're going to be real good players.’’

Lafrenière said he doesn’t feel pressure to produce offense to live up to his pre-draft billing as the NHL’s next great player, or to keep pace with the likes of Stutzle and Hughes.

“No, there's no pressure, I don't think,’’ he said. “Everyone's trying to produce as much as they can obviously, but there's no pressure. We’re just playing hockey, trying to have fun and be as good as you can.’’

The biggest thing for him, he said, is to find some consistency in his game. As a left wing, with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider ahead of him on the depth chart at that position, he’s either had to play right wing to get into the top six forwards, or he’s been stuck on the third line.

“I’ve had some good games, and some games where I can be better,’’ he said. “I think that's the biggest thing here, is (to) find consistency in your play. And that's the toughest part.’’

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