Welcome to New York, Alexis Lafreniere.
The Rangers selected the widely considered crown jewel of the 2020 NHL Draft with the No. 1 pick Tuesday night, marking the first top-overall pick for the franchise since Andre Veilleux in 1965 before the universal draft was inaugurated four years later.
Veilleux never made it to the NHL, and Lafreniere is already considered NHL-ready, so the anticipation for the 18-year-old left winger has been booming since the moment Rangers fans recognized the corner of their crest on the draft lottery pingpong ball.
And now Rangers fans can officially call him theirs.
After an early exit in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs at the hands of the Hurricanes in the qualifying round resulted in scoring the No. 1 pick, the Rangers’ rebuild shaved off a few years. It made the unforgettable Feb. 8, 2018 letter from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton appear a little bit further in the rearview mirror.
Because Lafreniere has been waiting to be a difference-maker for an NHL team for longer than the Rangers have been waiting for one. The Rangers had a 12.5 percent chance of garnering the first pick, and they did.
“I think just the way I’m a leader and I always want to win when the game’s on the line,” Lafreniere told NHL.com in April. “I think I can make a difference.”
After leading the QMJHL with 112 points (35 goals, 77 asists) in 52 games with the Rimouski Oceanic this past season, Lafreniere was named CHL player of the year for the second consecutive season. The only other pre-draft prospect to accomplish those feats was Penguins superstar and future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby, who also played for Rimouski nearly two decades ago.
Lafreniere’s 42 goals during his rookie season were the most by a 16-year-old since Crosby scored 54 in 2003.
“But I’m not Crosby,” Lafreniere told the New York Times in 2019. “I just try to be myself and play my game.”
He’s Alexis Lafreniere, and his most recent accomplishment was leading Canada to a gold medal at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship and being named tournament MVP. Even after missing the two final preliminary games with a leg injury, Lafreniere racked up four goals and six assists in five games.
Hall of Famer Mike Bossy, whose namesake award for the best professional prospect in the QMJHL was given to Lafreniere this past season, said even though he doesn’t know Lafreniere that well, he’s heard that he’s been preparing for this moment for a long time.
“He’s been on this trajectory for a while. He’s one of the faces of hockey in Quebec,” Bossy told The Post’s Larry Brooks in August. “He’s prepared for this. He’s ready.”
Can he be the face of New York next?
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