Rangers expect Lafreniere, No. 1 pick in 2020 Draft, to make impact

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After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the New York Rangers:

The New York Rangers took another step in their rebuild by selecting Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

The 19-year-old left wing signed a three-year, entry-level contract Oct. 12 and will not return to Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after he led the league with 77 assists and 112 points last season. The Rangers are hoping he can help elevate them from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to legitimate Stanley Cup contender

“For us, it was pretty clear-cut how we felt about him,” general manager Jeff Gorton said Oct. 6 during the first round of the draft. “He passed with flying colors in most things, in all things really. There wasn’t a lot of debate as far as our No. 1 player.”

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

Lafreniere is expected to play immediately for the Rangers, who were swept from the best-of-5 Qualifiers in three games by the Carolina Hurricanes.

“We feel real good about where we are,” Rangers president John Davidson said. “We’ve come a long way. There’s been some very difficult decisions, but to get to that end, to the championship, this is what you have to do.”

Video: New York Rangers select Alexis Lafreniere No. 1

Those difficult decisions included two longtime Rangers, goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Marc Staal. Lundqvist had the final season of a seven-year contract bought out Sept. 30, and Staal was traded to the Detroit Red Wings on Sept. 26.

Here is what the Rangers look like today:

 

Key arrivals

Alexis Lafreniere, F: Scored 297 points (114 goals, 183 assists) in 173 games in three seasons for Rimouski. He is the second player in QMJHL history to win league MVP in back-to-back seasons (Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby in 2004 and 2005, also with Rimouski). … Jack Johnson, D: The 33-year-old agreed to a one-year contract Oct. 9 after he was placed on unconditional waivers by the Penguins on Oct. 5 for the purpose of a buyout. He scored 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 67 games for the Penguins last season.

 

Key departures

Henrik Lundqvist, G: Signed a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals on Oct. 9. The 38-year-old was 10-12-3 with a 3.16 goals-against average, a .905 save percentage and one shutout in 30 games (26 starts) last season, his 15th with New York. He is sixth in NHL history in wins (459) and eighth in games (887). … Jesper Fast, F: Agreed to a three-year contract with the Hurricanes on Oct. 10 after scoring 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 69 games last season. … Marc Staal, D: Scored 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 52 games last season, missing 13 following ankle surgery Nov. 8. In 13 seasons with the Rangers, Staal scored 188 points (43 goals, 145 assists) in 892 games.

 

On the cusp

Vitali Kravtsov, F: The 20-year-old began this season playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League by scoring eight points (six goals, two assists) in 11 games, missing seven with a lower-body injury before returning Oct. 23. Kravtsov scored 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 39 games for Hartford of the American Hockey League last season, his first in North America. … Libor Hajek, D: The 22-year-old had five assists in 28 NHL games last season. He missed one month with a knee injury before finishing the season in Hartford. … K’Andre Miller, D: The 20-year-old agreed to an entry-level contract March 16. He scored 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 62 games in two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. … Nils Lundkvist, D: The 20-year-old, selected by New York in the first round (No. 28) of the 2018 NHL Draft, has not signed an NHL contract, but his stock has risen after breaking the Swedish Hockey League record for points by an under-20 defenseman last season (31; 11 goals, 20 assists in 45 games for Lulea). … Morgan Barron, F: The 21-year-old agreed to an entry-level contract July 31 after he scored 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 29 games at Cornell University last season. If the Rangers prefer Barron at center, he could help a position of need in the long term.

 

What they still need

Center depth. Ryan Strome, a restricted free agent whose arbitration hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5, scored an NHL career-high 59 points (18 goals, 41 assists) in 70 games as second-line center behind Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers need to figure out if Filip Chytil is better suited at center or wing.

 

Fantasy focus

The biggest fantasy question facing the Rangers is how big Lafreniere’s role will be under coach David Quinn after Kaapo Kakko (No. 2 pick in 2019 NHL Draft) did not make much of an impact in his first season. Kakko did not play much in the top six or on the first power-play unit, resulting in a low fantasy floor last season (23 points, minus-26 in 66 games). Lafreniere’s high fantasy ceiling (65-70 points) is contingent on playing with valuable center Zibanejad on the top line and/or with Zibanejad and elite left wing Artemi Panarin on the first power-play unit. — Pete Jensen

Video: NYR@DAL: Kakko shows off hands in tight to score

 

Projected lineup

Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Pavel Buchnevich

Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Kaapo Kakko

Alexis Lafreniere — Filip Chytil — Julien Gauthier

Phillip Di GiuseppeBrett HowdenBrendan Lemieux

Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox

Tony DeAngeloJacob Trouba

Jack Johnson — Brendan Smith

Igor Shesterkin

Alexandar Georgiev

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