Draft Class Deep Dive: LW Alexis Lafrenière

Tony Ferrari

2020-10-05

 

There are so many questions going into the NHL Draft. One question that was answered pretty emphatically throughout this season was who the best player is today. It’s Alexis Lafrenière. There is a conversation to be had about whether Quinton Byfield challenges Lafrenière as the best prospect but if you need to win one game tomorrow, Lafrenière is your man.

 

 

As we go through this video study and game analysis together, one thing is sure to stick out. Alexis Lafrenière is absolutely dominant in so many areas of the game. There are many factors that go into that such as his age and his environment but the fact of the matter is that Lafrenière is quite simply an offensive stud. The QMJHL star has collected virtually every piece of hardware imaginable from two CHL Player of the Year awards (2018-19 and 2019-20) to the World Junior Championship’s MVP on the way to the gold medal.

 

Awards Information Courtesy of EliteProspects.com

 

From statistical dominance to driving the bus on virtually every shift, Lafrenière proved that he is a special prospect at every turn. His scoring rates were through the roof at 2.15 points-per-game in the QMJHL this year, leading his team to a top-four league-wide finish in the QMJHL standings prior to the season being shut down because of the pandemic. While this likely means that Lafrenière will not be able to capture the CHL’s most coveted trophy, the Memorial Cup, Lafrenière will be playing a key role in New York with the Rangers after adding first overall in the NHL Draft to his list of accomplishments.

 

Statistical Dominance

The fact of the matter is that Lafrenière was the best offensive player in junior hockey last season. His numbers, whether you look at the raw totals or the rate-based statistics, were setting the pace for the draft class. As an elder statesman for the draft class, he was expected to put up big numbers but some of his numbers are beyond impressive. In the chart below we can see some of the offensive numbers for some of the best players from North America.

 

Statistical data courtesy of Pick224.com

 

The first thing you notice is that Lafrenière is atop the list on all of the rate-based statistics. On a per-game basis, he has shown the offensive firepower to warrant his back-to-back CHL Player of the Year awards. It becomes easy to see why he is so highly regarded and why there are so many people who think passing on a talent of his level would be a major misstep for the New York Rangers at first overall.

 

 

Lafrenière is an impressive point-producer at even strength which is often a concern for high scoring forwards at the junior level. His 1.13 primary points per game at even strength are well ahead of his closest competition, Quinton Byfield and Marco Rossi, who check-in at 1.04. With such proficiency and high-level even-strength production, powerplay production is almost expected and the QMJHL star doesn’t disappoint. His 26 primary points are very good but his ability to draw defenses and open space for others on the powerplay as we can see in the video above.

 

Elite Transitional Play

 

One of the areas that Lafrenière excels at is moving the puck up ice. The breakouts and zone entries that Lafrenière generates in terms of raw numbers dwarf most of his peers as we can see in the chart below. What is also evident is that while he does generate big numbers in this area, he does so with control on an average to slightly above-average rate. That statistic may be a bit misconceived without context, however. 69.91% of the 10.6 entries-per-game, is still 7.41 controlled entries-per-game, eclipsing all but Perfetti and Bourque when looking at this group’s total numbers. Needless to say, even if Lafrenière is only slightly above average at generating controlled entries on a rate basis in comparison to his peers, his raw numbers are so high that it can be misunderstood as to just how good he is in this area of the game.

 

Transition Data courtesy of InStat Hockey

 

Getting the puck up ice with haste is a staple of Lafrenière’s game. He loves to jump a bit early and present an option up ice that his teammates can pass the puck to. While we will address some of the negatives aspects of this trait in a bit, when Lafrenière makes the read and doesn’t jump the zone too early he can not only catch his opponents off guard but instantly put them at a disadvantage as the physically mature winger bursts through the neutral zone.

 

 

He is also an excellent passer in the neutral zone, often acting as a bumper player at center ice. This is a trait that we also covered when going through Perfetti’s game. Both of them do this with the understanding that neither has picture-perfect skating but both can get moving when they need to. Making yourself a bumper allows you to move the puck up ice, create a draw as you receive the pass, and open some passing lanes by attracting defensive players in the neutral zone. It also gives the World Junior MVP a chance to be the second man into the zone, giving him a bit of space to skate and generate some speed of his own. Lafrenière also has the puck skills and passing ability to do this as accurately and efficiently as any player in the draft.

 

Lafrenière is a very good rush attacker because of his understanding and use of various skating lanes. The clip above is one example of this. He enters the zone with control of the puck and begins to cross the defenders face, leaving a drop pass for a teammate. Once he gets to the backside inner hash marks, he makes a beeline to the net, attacking the space behind the defender. He receives the return pass and bangs it home. He understands the paths that his opponents plan on taking and takes advantage.

 

 

In the next clip, we again see how Lafrenière is able to manipulate space as he enters the offensive zone. He tucks in behind his linemate, hiding behind the wall of his own teammate and the defender attempting to thwart the zone entry. As soon as the Rimouski forward cuts to the middle, Lafrenière emerges from behind the shroud of human to fire the puck at a netminder likely not expect the shot to emerge from the crowd.

 

 

This deception on the rush and unique skating paths entering the zone are integral to Lafrenière being such an effective player in offensive transitions. He may not be the truest skater, as we will cover shortly, but he understands how and when to make a move and get to his spot. The awareness and IQ that Lafrenière possess allow him to overcome his legitimate but somewhat overblown skating concerns.

 

Nobody is Perfect

As alluded to when talking about Lafrenière’s transition play, he does like to flee the defensive zone a bit early at times. As a winger, his defensive responsibilities are lesser than the center but the fact of the matter is that there have been times where Lafrenière has watched his team penalty kill from the neutral zone. The problem with that is no one is in the penalty box and Lafrenière is on the ice. As we can see in the video below, there is sustained zone time by the opposition and Lafrenière is nowhere to be seen, for the most part, fading into the defensive zone late in the clip and near the end of the play. While this is a bit nitpicky and this isn’t a shift-to-shift issue, it is something that seems to happen once or twice in a game which could lead to a goal against. At the next level, he won’t be able to consistently put up the multi-point efforts that he doesn’t which helps mitigate the damage.

 

The one other area of concern for some scouts and analysts is Lafrenière’s lack of truly explosive acceleration. He is not an overly poor skater but he can have a bit of a heavy stride at times, looking like he is doing a lot of work to get to where he needs to be. His elite hockey sense and awareness allow him to cover up some of his skating flaws because he anticipates the play so well. This. much like we talked about with Perfetti, is the exact reasoning why when looking at skating, we should be taking it as a factor of mobility, not the be-all and end-all of how a player is judged. His skating my be average or slightly below but his mobility is above average because all of the other tools such as awareness, anticipation, and overall IQ also play a factor.

 

 

In the video above, we can see a bit of the heavy stride and lack of power in his stride. He is trying to get to the loose puck with a bit of a loose stride in his bottom half. He doesn’t really drive his legs through the ice, powering his stride. This is an issue that pops up from time to time in Lafrenière’s game but he also has the ability to get up to a pretty good speed in attacking when given a bit of a runway as he does in the video below.

 

 

In general, this won’t be a major issue for the near-unanimous top-ranked prospect. If the worst trait of a prospect is that his skating is average and he likes to ditch the defensive zone a bit early at times, there is an impressive player to build upon. Lafrenière is that player.

 

Offensive Dynamo

The ability to dominate a game in the offensive zone by drawing your opponents in with just your presence is special. Lafrenière has that ability. There are so many times in the offensive zone that the young Canadian attacks space with the puck on his stick and immediately draws the attention of two, three, or sometimes four defenders just for him to make a pass out of danger which puts a beautiful scoring chance on his teammates stick. His passing is pinpoint and his shot is deadly. If a team pays too much attention to one, he will utilize the other.

 

 

Our next video clip is an excellent example of this as well as so many of the skills that are required to make it happen. The first element we see if the stickhandling to open himself up into space. The next is the force and purpose that Lafrenière puts into where he is going on the ice, attacking the low slot. The vision is the next tool on display. The awareness to identify the teammate dashing in on the backside, into the space vacated by the defenders that are drawn to Lafrenière. Finally, we see the tangible conclusion to the play; Lafrenière makes an excellent pass through traffic and on the tape of his teammate’s stick. This is

 

 

Lafrenière has quite the shot, with the strength of it coming on his lightning-quick release from various hand and stick angles. The two-time CHL Player of the Year has shown the ability to shoot from spots that many players would have no business keeping control of the puck, let alone fire an accurate and heavy shot. In the play below, we see Lafrenière attack the middle of the ice and then encounter a bit of a wall as he enters the offensive zone but still has the hands and ability to fire a shot with little room. This level of shooting ability is rare to come by so if the presumed first-overall pick can push into the dangerous areas consistently and limit the low danger shots, he could become a lethal goal scorer and not just a very good one.

 

 

Alexis Lafrenière is a highly skilled player who plays with some power. He is physically mature and shows that he has a strength that is mature beyond junior hockey. In the clip below, he shows off that strength. He attacks the loose puck with power. The drive to the net goes through the defender who, despite having a shorter distance and the chance to clear it from harm, the QMJHL top scorer had no issue skating through the player on his way to potting a goal.

 

 

Lafrenière’s awareness is special. Whether he is finding a loose puck in his feet or reading the opposition on the forecheck, he is able to stay a step ahead of his opponent. As we look at the next video, we can identify Lafrenière reading the defender who is trying to make a pass to his partner. Once Lafrenière jumps the route and then has time to find his teammate driving the center of the slot.

 

 

When the puck is bouncing around, it’s often the first player to find it and settle it that can make a play for their team. Some would say that Lafrenière seems to have a knack for having the puck follow him around but the real reason for that his that Lafrenière is just more able to detect the puck around him and corral it with ease. We can see an impressive example of that below.

 

 

From the ability to manipulate and influence the defenders and his opponents to having the shot, vision, and puck skills to take advantage of the space he creates, Lafrenière is just simply dominate in the offensive zone.

 

With the First Overall Pick…

The season started with Alexis Lafrenière as the favorite to go number one and it ends much the same. With the New York Rangers winning the NHL Draft Lottery, there is little reason to believe that the name they call on October 6th will be anyone other than Alexis Lafrenière from the Rimouski Océanic. The left-winger is a high-level player who will be the cherry on top of an almost unbelievable rebuild and turn around by the same Rangers club that sent out a letter that let their fanbase know that they will be hitting the reset button in an act of transparency rarely seen in sports.