Mailbag: Lafrenieres play with Rangers, Zegras development for Ducks

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Here is the Feb. 10 edition of the mailbag. Each week, an NHL.com writer will answer your questions asked using #OvertheBoards.

 

Should the Rangers be concerned with the lack of production from Alexis Lafreniere? ­– @GosnellMike7

The answer lies somewhere between not very and mildly. There’s a lot to consider when examining Lafreniere’s early days. The 19-year-old forward was worthy of being the No. 1 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers, but it’s essential to understand what he’s been asked to do. Normally, a top pick, or a high pick who is talented enough to make an NHL roster, will have the benefit of a development camp, possibly a prospects tournament, and then a full NHL training camp with multiple preseason games to allow that player the chance to adjust to the speed of the game and get to know his new teammates. Lafreniere had none of that, except for a shortened version of training camp, and has been thrown into a compressed 56-game schedule of intense, high-stakes hockey. Some thought his overtime goal at the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 28, his only point in 11 games this season, would lead to more offensive production, but it’s not that easy. It has appeared at times that Lafreniere has had trouble finding space to make plays, but also keep in mind that Lafreniere has been moved around the lineup after the center he had begun to get settled with, Filip Chytil, sustained an upper-body injury Jan. 24 that was expected to keep him out 4-6 weeks. All of these factors are an immense amount to process for a young player, even one as talented as Lafreniere. My guess is that sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll look back at this stretch of games, or even much of his rookie season, and say it was a pretty big challenge, but it didn’t deter a remarkable player.

Video: NYR@BUF: Lafreniere nets OT winner for first NHL goal

 

How is Trevor Zegras not playing in the NHL yet? I understand not rushing your prospects, but it seems like all the deficiencies the Ducks have (scoring, speed, creativity, power play) he can immediately help. — @Mkton31

The No. 9 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft helped the United States win the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship with a tournament-high 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in seven games, including a goal and an assist against Canada in the championship game Jan. 5. Then he was assigned to San Diego, the Anaheim Ducks’ American Hockey League affiliate, and began the AHL season scoring five points (two goals, three assists) in two games against Bakersfield and was named AHL player of the week Monday. At the WJC, he made more of the small plays, reads and quick passes players need to make to be successful in the NHL, but it still was junior hockey. The Ducks have chosen to bring Zegras along slowly, and time in the AHL never is a bad thing, however promising a prospect seems to be. In Zegras’ case, I suspect the Ducks are aware of their deficiencies and know he is a blue-chip piece of their future. And as has been the case with most of their prospects, they know that whatever time Zegras spends in San Diego will help him learn to be a better professional player. That growth will make the case in good time for his promotion to the Ducks.

 

With the block scheduling this year, could we see this continue next season? Could it be conducive to take a page out of the MLB’s book and create 2-4 game sets against the same team? Would the players benefit? — @theashcity

Let’s start by saying there are a great many unknowns about the future. The NHL has been clear it would like to return to a normal calendar and cadence for the 2021-22 season, meaning training camp begins in September and the regular season starts in early October. The block scheduling you mentioned has resonated with many teams and many fans. As for your second question, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid talked about having a favorable view of the schedule this season because on the road, with mostly multiple games in each city, he said his body feels better and he’s felt fresher. Who wouldn’t? Less time traveling would be a positive for every member of every team. But that wish for the future will be tricky, given the normal practice of having teams play every opponent in the NHL at least once at home and once on the road. It’s possible that option is explored for next season, but the wiser thing would be to let this unique, unusual season run its course and then make decisions based on a full package of feedback.

 

With Petr Mrazek‘s injury, do you think Carolina should give an extended look to Alex Nedeljkovic? I think they should see what they have in him since they have no goalies signed past this season. — @GLaSnoST9

That opportunity very well might have begun. The 25-year-old made his first start of the season for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday and made 19 saves in a 3-2 loss. The Hurricanes have veteran goalie James Reimer but need someone to help replace Mrazek, who is out indefinitely after having thumb surgery Feb. 3. Nedeljkovic has played seven NHL games in five professional seasons, going 2-3-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. He was a second-round pick (No. 37) by the Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL Draft and has paid ample dues in the AHL. He tied for the AHL lead with 31 wins in 2017-18, and in 2018-19, he led Charlotte to the Calder Cup and won the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the top goalie in the AHL. It’s often said that goalies require more seasoning than players at other positions to be NHL-ready. I expect the Hurricanes will be watching Nedeljkovic to see if his time has come.

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