Lafreniere says being No. 1 pick in NHL Draft an unreal feeling

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Alexis Lafreniere sat between his mom, Nathalie, and his sister, Lori-Jane. Dad Hugo was on the far side, so it was his job to go get the New York Rangers jersey and hat.

That was the extent of the Lafreniere 2020 NHL Draft party on Tuesday, the immediate family celebrating the 18-year-old left wing getting picked No. 1 by the Rangers on a night the NHL conducted an all-virtual first round.

“It’s different, and we didn’t expect that a couple months ago,” Lafreniere said. “It’s still an honor, a big day in my life. I woke up and was really excited. I got ready for the pick. It was just a huge honor for me when I heard my name. I’m just a little bit speechless and really excited.”

Lafreniere’s draft party had to be limited to his immediate family because his home in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, is in a COVID-19 red zone as mandated by the provincial government, meaning nobody else is allowed inside or outside the house.

So instead of getting hugs and congratulations from friends and extended family in person, Lafreniere received them all on his phone, through text messages, phone calls and FaceTimes, which in many respects was perfect considering the NHL was holding an all-virtual draft.

The 2020 NHL Draft was supposed to take place at Bell Centre in Montreal, about 20 miles from Lafreniere’s hometown, on June 26-27, but it was postponed March 25 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

Video: New York Rangers draft F Alexis Lafreniere No. 1

The curveball that kept him at home with mom, dad and Lori-Jane didn’t stop Lafreniere from smiling and experiencing that tingly, did this really just happen feeling that all No. 1 picks typically get when they jump out of their seats in the arena, hug their families and go up on stage to join the draft party of the team selecting them for an unforgettable photo opp.

“It was an unreal feeling,” Lafreniere said. “Obviously, the New York Rangers are a great organization, and for me, I’m really honored to join them. When I heard my name, we’ve been waiting for a long time, so it was something really special for me and for my family. We’re all really excited.”

Next for Lafreniere is actually getting himself to New York City, but nobody is sure yet when that can happen, especially with the restrictions in place in Quebec and at the U.S.-Canadian border.

Lafreniere said he has never been to New York City.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced the new target date to start next season is Jan. 1. 

“I don’t know when it’s going to be but probably in the next couple months or so,” Lafreniere said of arriving in New York. “We’ll talk with the staff and see what happens, but I don’t really know yet. I’ll just enjoy my night and see what happens next.”

Lafreniere also will have to choose the number he’ll wear on his Rangers’ jersey. He wore No. 11 with Rimouski, but that is retired by the Rangers for both Mark Messier and Vic Hadfield.

“For sure I’m going to choose pretty soon,” Lafreniere said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

He can choose because all indications are Lafreniere will be in the NHL with the Rangers next season.

Video: New York Rangers select Alexis Lafreniere No. 1

Lafreniere was named the most valuable player of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, the first back-to-back winner of each award since Sidney Crosby (2003-05) did it also with Rimouski.

He scored 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games this season. Lafreniere was also named the MVP and best forward at the 2020 World Junior Championship, where he helped Canada win the championship.

“Physically I got a lot stronger, and my game, I can create scoring chances a lot,” Lafreniere said. “That’s something I’ll try to bring to the next level. For sure it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment, but I’ll keep getting ready. When training camp starts, I’ll try to be as good as I can and try to make a difference.”

That’s what the Rangers will eventually expect from Lafreniere. For now, he’ll stay hunkered down at home, celebrating his big night months after it was originally supposed to happen, limited by provincial government restrictions that can’t ruin the feeling of being the No. 1 pick.

“It’s a big honor, a really nice day for me,” Lafreniere said. “Growing up, you’re dreaming of being drafted, and for me, it’s amazing to go first. Really honored. New York Rangers, the team is so special, and for sure it’s a really big day for me.

“I’m really excited to see the New York fans and to come to New York.”

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