MONTREAL | There's Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, but there's also Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nico Hischier, Alexis Lafrenière and Juraj Slafkovsky.
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A first overall pick doesn't become a big star instantly. In New York as in Montreal, supporters can testify to this reality.
First in the class of the 2020 draft, Lafrenière is still looking for his bearings in his third season with the Rangers.
Gerard Gallant advocated patience with the former Rimouski Oceanic.
"Laffy is 21, he still has a lot of time to grow," said the head coach of Rangers. There are young people who become big stars immediately, like Crosby. I have no problem with Laffy. We are happy with his development, he will be a good player in the NHL. »
"You should ask him the question to find out what type of player he is," he continued. He would like to score 50 NHL goals. It could happen, but it won't happen now. I have confidence in him, he will be a very good player in the NHL. »
A few hours before his visit to the Bell Center, Lafrenière had modest statistics with 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 38 games.
"There are ups and downs," admitted Lafrenière. I have had good times and bad times. I didn't know what to expect when I debuted in the NHL. I still have to adjust, I stay young. There are several veterans with the Rangers. I can learn from the older ones to know what they do to be consistent. »
“I play in different situations, I have to be as efficient as possible, no matter where I am told to play. »
A game in the stands
Gallant sent a message to Lafrenière on December 29, removing him from his roster for the game against the Lightning in Tampa. Relaunched on his choice in front of Montreal journalists, the former assistant to Michel Therrien insisted that it was not a punishment.
"I'm looking for the right word. But we didn't take him out of the lineup because we were mad at him," Gallant said. It was not a punishment. »
“There are reasons when you leave a player in the stands. It wasn't fair to his game. We all want to see him become a really good player. But I wanted to shake him up a bit. I don't want him to change his style. We talked to each other. Laffy is a young man. He scored 20 goals last year (counting playoffs). He now has five goals. We want more from him, as he wants more. »
Lafrenière will now aim to bounce back by the end of the season.
"It was a game in the stands, but I had experienced the same thing last year," he said. I had played well after that, I had had a good end to the season. I would like to do the same thing again. The second half of the season is starting and I hope to play good hockey. »
The Captain's Trust
Inside the opposing team's small locker room at the Bell Centre, Jacob Trouba reiterated his confidence in Lafrenière.
"He's a top pick overall in a city like New York. There's pressure, there's no doubt about it, the Rangers captain said. But I like his attitude. He has fun and he is loved by his teammates. It is a key for a young person, he has the respect of his teammates. We know he has a lot of talent and skill, we've seen him for just over two years. He is a good player already and he will become even better. »
With the Rangers, Lafrenière also finds himself stuck on the left flank behind Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider. Like Trouba, Gallant spoke about the famous expectations by bringing relief to them.
“Yes, it must be difficult for him. But he must forget that. He doesn't have to think about reporters and expectations. He must have fun on the ice. As a coach, I want to help him, I don't yell at him. We have a good team in New York. He does not have the chance to play on the first wave on the power play. He sometimes gets 20 seconds when Panarin goes out. It is an issue. »