8 ways Alexis Lafreniere fits in the NHL

August 10th, 2020

The NHL draft lottery goes tonight (Sportsnet 4 pm mst) where the first overall pick and the fate of Alexis Lafreniere will be decided for the October 9th draft. The Left Winger for Rimouski of the QMJHL has averaged 1.72 points per game with the Oceanic and fell 3 points shy of 300 in his career when the season was halted. The two time CHL player of the year was the first overall pick in the QMJHL and is the consensus top pick this year. Here are the 8 teams, all with a 12.5% chance of landing the next great hope and how he fits in with them with a Lafreniere Rank, meaning where they rank in my opinion when it comes to needing the super star.

New York Rangers

If you gave NHL commissioner Gary Bettman truth serum and asked him where he would like Lafreniere to land it would have to be on Broadway. The Rangers signed the prize free agent last summer in Artemi Panarin and he responded with a 95 point year that earned him a Hart Trophy nomination. With Panarin locking up the top line left wing spot it would give Lafreniere some shelter and time to get his feet under him in the NHL, which shouldn’t take long. The Rangers top centre is Mika Zibanajed but when he was injured in the regular season Panarin and Ryan Strome developed a lot of chemistry and proved quite productive. Rangers Head Coach could easily start Lafreniere with Zibanajed and Strome with Panarin next year if the Rangers ball comes up and have two pretty deadly pairings for the next foreseeable future providing, they can sign Zibanajed in two years and keep Strome in the fold this off season. Don’t forget New York has 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich who’s coming off his best season on the right side to match up with the two pairs of players. It might even mean that fifth year General Manager Jeff Gorton doesn’t have to move out a contract. He has left winger Chris Krieder starting a seven year $45.5 million deal next season, but he could be watching $8.5 million come off the books if Henrik Lundqvist decides to retire. The Rangers have almost $15 million in cap space right now and of the eight players not signed for next season five of them are restricted free agents. The only drawback to Lafreniere become a Ranger is he won’t get to wear #11 as that’s in the rafters with Messier on it. Likely he’d go with the number he wore with Canada at one point, 22


Past first overall picks

1965 - Andre Veilleux

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are like a few teams on this list that are basically a turnkey franchise, meaning already considered a contender. Sunday night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets in game 5 of their qualifying series Toronto debuted a top line worth more than $33 million. If the Bud’s ball comes up Toronto could ice an all first overall pick line by shifting Lafreniere or John Tavares to the right wing. Or Head Coach Sheldon Keefe could shelter Lafreniere like the Rangers could on the second line for a time being. Lafreniere’s entry level contract will come in handy as the Leafs have just over $5 million in cap space next year with only nine forwards and five defencemen signed. Toronto is so top heavy on talent up front that you could see Lafreniere fitting in with almost anyone. His slick play making skills could deliver Auston Matthew his first 50 goal season (although I’m sure he would have scored 3 goals in the final 12 games of the season had it not been cancelled to reach the milestone) or maybe it’s Lafreiniere who becomes the first rookie to lead the NHL in goals since Teemu Selanne did it in 1992-93, thanks to sweet set ups from Mitch Marner. Lafreniere could be the missing piece of the puzzle Toronto fans have been trying to build since 1967.


Past first overall picks

1985 - Wendell Clark

2016 - Auston Matthews

Florida Panthers

Going back a decade the Panthers drafted in the following spots.

2010- 3rd overall

2011-3rd overall

2012-23rd overall

2013-2nd overall

2014-1st overall

In the last five years the Panthers have only drafted inside the top 10 once (10th overall in 2017) and despite two division titles, have just five playoff wins in only two trips to the year-end dance since 2010, not including this year when they were bounced by the New York Islanders in the qualifying tournament.

Florida sound like they are moving on from Dale Tallon who took over as General Manager in 2010 after building most of the Stanley Cup teams in Chicago. Tallon drafted the building blocks of a talented team in Jonathan Huberdeau, Alexander Barkov and Erik Ekblad and while Lafreniere would look great on the left side of Barkov - who’s averaged 51 helpers in the last seasons - scoring isn’t one of the Panther’s problems. They averaged more than three goals per game and ranked six in scoring last season and despite signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven year $70 million contract in July Florida racked up the fourth most goals against. Bobrovsky saw his rankings in goals against and save percentage fall from 16th and 21st to 38th and 34th respectively. Whoever takes over from Tallon will have just over $20 million to spend and decisions to make on Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadanov and Erik Haula all unrestricted free agents.

One more thing on the Panthers winning the first overall pick. Remember that truth serum we gave Gary Bettman at the start of this article, well if you gave him another dose and asked him about Florida winning, I think you'd get just as emphatic of a NO for Florida as he would give a YES on Lafreniere going to New York. It's true the Panthers saw an increase in their average attendance last season - 843 more fans per game - they haven't drawn more than 15,000 fans on average only once in the past seven years. Watching most nights, it's hard to believe that Florida averaged more than 14,000 fans this year. While they may have sold that many tickets, it seemed most nights fans were dressed up as seats. Can Lafreniere be the guy who brings the Panthers up to the standards of the Tampa Bay Lightning who almost always are at 100% capacity?


Past first overall picks

2014 - Aaron Ekblad

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins like Toronto are built to win now, with the slight difference that they have already won with the core group and adding the type of skill Lafreniere would bring would be just the thing to recharge and motivate the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Letang etc after a disappointing loss to Montreal in the qualifier. Pittsburgh has just six playoff wins in the last three seasons (not counting this year's qualifier win vs Montreal) since winning it all over Nashville in 2017. Crosby missed 28 games in the regular season with Malkin sitting out half as many with his own injuries and while Sid 'the just turned 33 year old' Kid acknowledged that their window could be closing with age, inserting the next NHL star will do a lot to keep that window propped open for a while. Lafreniere beside Malkin could help the Russian sniper reach 50 goals for just the 2nd time in his career or maybe it's Malkin feeding Lafreniere as six times he's racked up more than 50 assists and had 49 when the season was halted. Of course, the soon to be second ever first overall pick to come out of Rimouski would look pretty good with the guy who was the first top pick as an Oceanic player 15 years ago. Crosby, who like Malkin can snipe and set up with the best of them would be the perfect line mate to guide Lafreniere through his first season and beyond. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has around $13 million to spend this summer but has to get one of or both goaltenders Matt Murray who started the qualifying series and Tristan Jarry who finished it signed as well as defenceman Justin Schultz who is an UFA.


Past first overall picks

1985 - Mario Lemieux

2003 - Marc-Andre Fleury

2005- Sidney Crosby

Minnesota Wild

Back to that truth serum again, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could drink it and wouldn't pick the Wild as the team most in need of a super star. Think about it, who has been a true game breaking and marketable star to play for Minnesota? If the franchise was an ice cream flavour it would be vanilla. In 20 years, they have yet to win a conference final playoff game, getting swept in their only trip to the third round 2003 by Anaheim. They have four playoff wins in the last five years and haven't reached the second round of the post season since 2015. As for that star player you have to go back to the first player they drafted, Marion Gaborik third overall in 2000. He is the last and only player to have an 80+ point season reaching 83 in 2008. Only one Wild player has reached 70 points in the past ten seasons with Eric Staal having 76 three seasons ago. Minnesota went wild in 2012 signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13 year $98 million deals that have 5 years left. Lafreniere would not only give the Wild a boost on the ice but in a hockey mad market he could become one of the biggest stars in Minneapolis sports history and give the team its first real super star.


Past first overall picks

1978 - Bobby Smith - North Stars

1983 - Brian Lawton - North Stars

1988- Mike Modano - North Stars

Nashville Predators

Right behind the Wild when it comes to need in my opinion is Nashville. While the Predators have looked like Mensa members when drafting and developing blue liners, they have been less successful up front. The Predators are the only City on this list that hasn't drafted first overall. Technically the Wild haven't but the Minnesota North Stars did. The closest they have come was in their first draft when they took David Legwand second overall in 1998 and he is still the franchise leader in points, which tells you something about their skill up front. Nashville doesn't have to sign any impact players this summer and sliding Lafreniere on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg moving to the right side might be the only move they have to make. Lafreniere might be the guy who allows Ryan Johansen to finally realize his potential. The centreman was signed by Nashville to an eight year $64 million deal in 2017 and has one season over 70 points that came 5 years ago in Columbus. The Predators are solid in most areas but don't have a game breaker like Lafreniere who would make them a cup contender immediately.


Past first overall picks


Winnipeg Jets

I'm a little biased here having grown up in Manitoba but the Jets have been a hard luck franchise for quite a while, both 2.0 and the original franchise. The first version of the Jets had to play in the Smythe Division which was won by the Oilers and Flames every year from 1982-1990. The city has seen its share of super stars from Bobby Hull in the WHA to Dale Hawerchuk in the 80's and Teemu Selanne setting the rookie record for goals with 76 in 1993, but none of them have taken the Jets to a Stanley Cup Final. The first version never even made it out of the division and Jets 2.0 lost out to Vegas in the conference finals 3 years ago. Watching Winnipeg's ball pop up might start a parade at Portage and Main and cause a shake up in the line-up.

Patrick Laine has wondered about his line mates in the past and if Lafreniere joins the Jets Laine could get Mark Scheifle as his counterman, leaving Blake Wheeler to stay in the middle and set up the young stud. The Jets could have deadly trigger men on both lines and two great options on the power play. Or it's possible General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff dangles one of his top forwards to get help on the blueline, which was a bit of a mess this year.


Past first overall picks

1981 - Dale Hawerchuk - Jets 1.0

1999 - Patrick Stefan - Thrashers

2001 - Ilya Kovalchuk - Thrashers

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers are in the same boat as the Penguins when it comes to adding Lafreniere, without the Stanley Cups. Out of all 8 teams the Oilers have the most first overall picks and they have all come in the last decade. Back to that truth serum now, after a big gulp of it, the Oilers would like to come up as the team Bettman doesn't want to win the lottery. Four first overall picks and 7 playoff wins in one trip to the post season (not counting this year's qualifying series) since drafting Taylor Hall while averaging 40 losses per year.

The Oilers looked like a team ready to take a big step forward this year but couldn't get into the big dance after losing to Chicago. Offence doesn't seem to be a problem for Edmonton with McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins getting better every year but that doesn't mean Alexis Lafreniere wouldn't look dynamite beside McDavid or Draisaitl. Like going to Pittsburgh, Edmonton would give Lafreniere another first overall pick to learn from and the Oilers would be hard to shut out. Like McDavid and Draisaitl, Lafreniere can score and set up his line mates so there really isn't a bad fit.

The other factor in the top ball coming up Oilers is what would happen throughout the hockey world. Epic meltdowns on social media would take place and for those in the media it would be a crazy story to cover. For that reason, I want it to happen, but there are certainly more deserving teams out there.


Past first overall picks

2010 - Taylor Hall

2011 - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

2012 - Nail Yakupov

2015 - Connor McDavid

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