Alexis Lafreniere was selected with the No. 1 pick by the New York Rangers in the 2020 NHL Draft on Tuesday.
“It’s a big honor for me,” Lafreniere said. “Obviously, the New York Rangers are a big organization with a lot of history and a lot of great players. So for me it’s big honor and I’m really excited to join this team.”
The left wing led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 77 assists and 112 points for Rimouski and for the second straight season was voted QMJHL MVP, QMJHL Personality of the Year and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year.
The Rangers won the No. 1 pick in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on Aug. 10. The draft was rescheduled from June due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
“We’ve had a few [Zoom calls] with him, obviously we’ve done our homework on him, we’ve talked to a lot of people around him,” New York general manager Jeff Gorton said this week. “He’s a really humble kid that gives credit to everybody around him. He’s a good family kid. He works really hard. He’s really focused.
“Obviously, he’s in a different situation where he’s been considered a high pick for a very long time that’s now extended into a few more months, so it’s a little bit of a crazy process for him. Like a lot of the kids in the top part of this draft, they’re all great kids, really focused on what they’re trying to do, and we’ve been nothing but impressed.”
Center Quinton Byfield was picked No. 2 by the Los Angeles Kings, and forward Tim Stuetzle was chosen No. 3 by the Ottawa Senators, who also selected defenseman Jake Sanderson at No. 5.
Forward Lucas Raymond was picked No. 4 by the Detroit Red Wings.
Byfield is the highest-selected Black player in NHL history. Forward Evander Kane (2009 NHL Draft, Atlanta Thrashers) and defenseman Seth Jones (2013 NHL Draft, Nashville Predators) each were chosen with the No. 4 pick.
“Quinton is an exceptional young man and talented player with a very bright future,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. “We’re proud to be adding him to our organization and look forward to the next stages of his development and a promising career in L.A.”
Byfield scored 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 games with Sudbury this season, tied for 14th in the Ontario Hockey League. He tied for fifth in points per game (1.82) and won 51.9 percent of his face-offs (304-for-586).
“Byfield has really high character, and the best is yet to come,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “He [has] deceptive speed and moves very well for a big guy (6-foot-4, 215 pounds). He has drive, passion and plays the game the correct way. An assertive guy with sweet hands and an NHL package of skills.”
Stuetzle, a left wing, scored 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 41 games this season for Adler Mannheim of Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany’s top professional men’s league. He is the highest-selected NHL draft pick born and trained in Germany since forward Leon Draisaitl was selected No. 3 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2014 NHL Draft.
“Stuetzle is an excellent prospect that’s full of surprises,” NHL European Scouting director Goran Stubb said. “He has a very good skill set, is an excellent playmaker with smooth hands. He’s a very good skater with good balance and a good burst and also plays a mature game.”
The Rangers (37-28-5, .564 points percentage) finished 18th in the NHL standings this season and are the first team to finish that high and have the No. 1 pick since the 1994 NHL Draft, when the Florida Panthers finished 16th. New York is the first team to participate in the postseason and have the No. 1 pick since the 1983 NHL Draft (Minnesota North Stars).
The Rangers were one of the eight teams with a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The pick was assigned in the First Phase of the lottery on June 26. New York was swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in their best-of-5 Qualifier series as part of the 24-team Return to Play Plan.
This was the 19th time a team picked No. 1 and No. 2 in consecutive NHL Drafts. The Rangers selected forward Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, after the New Jersey Devils selected center Jack Hughes at No. 1.
The Rangers had No. 1 pick for the second time; they selected forward Andre Veilleux in the 1965 NHL Draft.
“Throwing on a Rangers jersey, it’s pretty amazing,” Lafreniere said. “Growing up you dream of being drafted in the NHL and just being able to have an NHL jersey, and especially a New York jersey, it’s really unreal for me.”
Lafreniere, of Saint-Eustache, Quebec, is the first Quebec-born player selected No. 1 since goalie Marc-Andre Fleury by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2003 NHL Draft. The last Quebec-born skater chosen No. 1 was center Vincent Lecavalier by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL Draft.
“It means a lot to me, just being able to represent Quebec City,” Lafreniere said. “I think it’s something really special for me, and I’m really excited to keep going and try to make them proud again.”