Alexis Lafreniere said he was relieved after he delivered for the New York Rangers on Thursday, when he scored his first NHL goal and point in overtime of a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center.
“I just couldn’t wait for it to happen,” said the 19-year-old forward, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Rangers can’t wait to see more of it.
“We’ve all seen it, right?” New York coach David Quinn said. “A guy who is a goal scorer and has got the talent he has but has trouble scoring; when that first one goes in, they usually come in bunches.
“We’re all hoping for that for him. We’re all hoping for that for our team. We are certainly anticipating that. If he wasn’t getting chances, I think we’d all be a little bit worried, but he was getting chances and eventually they were going to go in.”
Lafreniere, who has seven shots on goal in his past two games after having six in his first five games, finally converted when he scored off a 2-on-1 with forward Colin Blackwell at 2:47 of overtime to defeat the Sabres on Thursday.
The Rangers (2-4-1) host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).
“Obviously everybody talks about his world-class talent, but this guy is a [gutsy] kid,” Quinn said. “He really is. I don’t care if he’s the first pick or the 271st pick, he’s a [gutsy] kid. He’s a kid you want to be around. … I couldn’t be happier for him. His game is coming. He’s playing better and better each night. It’s just great to see, it really is.”
Lafreniere is not the first No. 1 pick to struggle to find his game in the NHL.
Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, didn’t score his first point, a goal, until his ninth game. The forward finished 2008-09, his rookie season, with 46 points (23 goals, 23 assists) in 79 games.
Stamkos ranks second in goals (424) and sixth in points (838) since he entered the NHL.
Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, didn’t score his first goal until his eighth game, after getting an assist in his second game. The forward scored 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 65 games as a rookie in 2010-11.
Hall won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18, when he scored 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games and has scored 570 points (219 goals, 351 assists) in 635 games.
“Obviously, [Lafreniere]’s got a lot of talent, but there’s so much more that goes to it than talent and he’s got those characteristics,” Quinn said. “If anybody can handle these circumstances, it’s him.”
Quinn said he has been impressed with the maturity, work ethic, desire to learn, coachability and talent Lafreniere has shown since the first day of training camp.
After watching him celebrate a personal milestone and a win that ended New York’s four-game losing streak (0-3-1) Thursday, Quinn said Lafreniere’s goal and performance after a rough start to the season were why he has not wavered in his belief in the rookie.
“He shakes it off,” Quinn said. “He’s not bothered by it. He comes to training camp, he’s obviously playing in the National Hockey League this year and everybody anticipated him hitting the ground running. He did. He got better and better after his first few games. He had chances, he was snake-bitten, but never let it rattle him.”
LNH.com staff writer Guillaume Lepage contributed to this report