Arriving at Alexis Lafrenière’s locker after Rangers practice on Saturday, we almost found ourselves wondering if we had looked at the calendar wrong.
The spectacular blonde brush that Lafrenière sports under his nose was indeed worthy of the most beautiful mustaches in “Movember.” Ditto for his linemate Vincent Trocheck, sitting three places to his left.
“I’ll keep her for a bit, we’ll see. Trocheck also has it, we’re going to try to keep it,” Lafrenière timidly said, surrounded by Quebec journalists.
Lafrenière arrives at the Bell Center with his head held high for his duel against the Canadian. With 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 37 games, he is on pace to eclipse his career high of 39 points set last season. Failing to live up to the immense expectations since being picked 1st overall in the 2020 draft (and before that), he is progressing.
The key to such results? It starts with some pretty capable linemates. Often paired with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko in the past, he finds himself alongside Trocheck and Artemi Panarin. If the latter does not need an introduction, Trocheck is not preceded by the same reputation, so much so that its qualities sometimes go unnoticed. The American nevertheless ranks 3rd in the NHL in faceoffs (62.3%) and plays nearly 21 minutes per game.
“He does pretty much everything. That’s what makes it so good, says Lafrenière. He produces offense, he’s good defensively, he plays on the advantage, on the disadvantage, he wins his faceoffs. There’s not much he doesn’t do. Playing with him helps because he makes things a little easier for his linemates. »
The elevator quickly returned. “I always wanted to play with him, I always asked to be paired with him, and when we had the chance to play together last year, we played well,” argued Trocheck. I especially like his level of competition. He obviously has a lot of talent, which is why he was drafted 1st overall, but he struggles on the ice. »
In terms of goals scored and allowed, the trio doesn’t break anything. According to Moneypuck data, among the 28 lines that have played at least 300 minutes together this season in the NHL, the Panarin-Trocheck-Lafrenière unit comes in 25th with a goals-for-goals-against ratio of 50% (18- 18). On the other hand, in terms of expected goals ratio, the three sidekicks come in 12th place (57.2%). In other words, a bit of bad luck or spectacular performances by goalkeepers against them skew the data.
They nevertheless need a coach who believes in them, who believes in stability, and this seems to be the case with Peter Laviolette, new head coach of the New Yorkers.
“We have so much stability in our lines. Even if you play a few matches where things aren’t going well, he comes back with the same trios,” recalls Lafrenière.
For his part, Laviolette took the lead this summer by contacting most of his players when he was hired. Lafrenière was one of them.
“I told him to come to camp and be ready. I wanted him to arrive in good physical condition, explained the pilot. He did it. He worked hard at camp. There was a period of adaptation for him on the right wing. But it wasn’t long. He found his rhythm and chemistry with his linemates. It’s very positive. I wanted to start from scratch with all my players, not just him. The past doesn’t count, we think about the future. »
Laviolette is therefore accomplishing what he has done everywhere he has been: energizing his team in his first year behind the bench. So far, they have a better record (.716) than last year, although after a 107-point season (.652), the bar was pretty high.
That said, it was in the playoffs that things got bad for the Rangers last year, eliminated in the first round by the Devils and a rookie goalie. It is in April that we will truly be able to measure how this team has progressed.
Jonathan Quick will defend the Rangers’ net. He may wear the title of auxiliary, but so far he has better statistics than Igor Shesterkin, with a record of 9-2-1, an average of 2.41 and an efficiency of .917. All this after a 2022-2023 season during which he seemed at the end of his rope. Quick will turn 38 in two weeks.