N.H.L. Draft: Rangers Select Alexis Lafreniere With First Overall Pick

The Rangers selected wing Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus top prospect, with the No. 1 pick on Tuesday night in an N.H.L. draft conducted virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lafreniere, who will turn 19 next week, scored 35 goals and had 112 points in 52 games last season for Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He joins a youthful Rangers roster alongside forward Kaapo Kakko, 19, the second overall pick in 2019; forward Filip Chytil, 21; defenseman Adam Fox, 22; and goaltender Igor Shesterkin, 24, among its core.

The Rangers last won a playoff series in 2017 and committed to a rebuild the following season. By night’s end — unless they trade the No. 22 pick — they will have used eight first-round picks in their past four drafts, including three picks in 2018.

Lafreniere, who is 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, won the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year Award for the second consecutive season, joining Sidney Crosby as the only players to win the award twice. Lafreniere became the first Quebec-born forward drafted first over all since Vincent Lecavalier by Tampa Bay in 1998. All three forwards played their junior hockey for Rimouski.

Lafreniere spoke on a Zoom call late last month about the prospect of playing in New York.

“Really nice place, one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s exciting,” he said, adding he would be watching the draft at home with family and friends. “I would be really excited for sure.”

Lafreniere also is a notably rare wing who can be more of a playmaker than a pure goal scorer, similar to Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov or Artemi Panarin, who led the Rangers in assists (63) and points (95) last season.

“Everybody talks about his ability to produce off the wing,” said Kevin Weekes, the lead analyst with the N.H.L. Network and a former Rangers goaltender. “Wingers who can generate that much offense — make plays and create off the wall — are rare and hard to come by.”

Weekes added that Lafreniere also possessed a bonus element, augmenting his offensive prowess.

“He has some jam and intensity," Weekes said. “He will grit his teeth and dig in.”

Quinton Byfield, a 6-foot-4 center selected second over all by the Los Angeles Kings, had a succinct assessment of Lafreniere, his teammate on Canada’s 2020 World Junior Championship team.

“His play speaks for itself,’’ Byfield said. “He can do everything.”

The draft was originally scheduled for the last weekend in June in Montreal, but like everything else on hockey’s calendar since the league suspended play in March, it was delayed because of the pandemic. An expanded 24-team playoff tournament began in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, on Aug. 1, and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Dallas Stars in six games.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said during Tuesday’s broadcast that the league was targeting Jan. 1, 2021, to start the next season.

The initial draft lottery — held in June — included the seven teams that did not qualify for the summer playoffs plus a placeholder pick for one of eight clubs that would lose in the qualification round. That placeholder team won the June lottery, leading to another drawing in August among the eight losing teams, with each having a 12.5 percent chance to snare the first overall pick.

After the Rangers were swept 3-0 by the Carolina Hurricanes, they won that second lottery, guaranteeing the Original Six franchise its first No. 1 pick since the universal draft format was adopted in 1969.

In 1965, when the N.H.L. had only six teams, the Rangers chose forward Andre Veilleux with the top selection in an amateur draft that included only 11 picks. Veilleux never played in an N.H.L. game.

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