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Alexis Lafreniere and Rangers have reached the point of no return

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Totally positive was Gerard Gallant after a short tough skate on Wednesday, who showed more change in his inconsistent front set. The biggest change was seeing Alexis Lafrenière on the fourth line of four players, one of them Lafrenière, Samy Place (a good scratch in the last two games), Johnny Brudzinskiou and then Jimmy Veese Zero would be in Thursday’s game in Tampa.

For about 13 months now, Gallant has been playing Lafrenière in fourth line minutes trying to get the attention of the 2020 No. 1 winner. It worked. Lafreniere scored 11 goals in his last 35 games, then scored in a playoff game that reminded everyone why he was the best two years ago. Entering the final season of his contract in 2022-23 and completing an impressive playoff run, the rest of the NHL files likely – the 21-year-old presumably was on the verge of a run.

Now 36 games into its third season, the team and the league are still waiting.

“He doesn’t seem like he’s doing much out there with or without the puck,” said an NHL scout whose coverage area includes the Rangers. “When you watch him play, it’s hard to find him there, and he has little impact on the outcome. I don’t know if it’s a lack of confidence but his maneuverability makes him feel a bit behind.”

The Rangers still believe La Frenière could be the player who was undoubtedly the first pick after three stellar seasons with Rimouski in the Quebec league, two QMJHL MVP awards and a World Junior MVP award after leading Canada to the gold medal in the comeback season.

But there seems to be some disconnect between the Rangers player Lafrenière hoped to be and the player he is now. Tim Stozel was twice picked after Lafrenière in 2020 and went to a Senators A team that had plenty of room for improvement and broke into the top six. Although the Senators made their way through Stützle’s first two seasons in the NHL, he established himself as Ottawa’s go-to player and a big part of the Senators’ future—the team signed him to an eight-year, $8.35 contract. Million kick next season.

“When you watch (Ottawa) play, you notice (Stützle),” said an Eastern Conference executive who was granted anonymity because he is not authorized to comment publicly on other teams’ players. I can’t say the same about Lafreniere. Stützle has scored 29 points in 30 games this season for the Senators while leading all Ottawa forwards in ice time at 20:09 per game. He plays in all positions. Lafrenière scored 17 points in 36 games while playing a 15:01 game and getting game time extracts.

Lafrenière joined a team that had two of the top six fully fortified left-handers on the roster Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarina, so Lafrenière would either have to settle for a few minutes and almost no playing time or try to force his way into the top six.

There have been ups and downs for this player, but nothing is constant. And in games like Tuesday, when the Rangers had plenty of chances and goals in the attacking zone, that night Lafrenière stayed away and didn’t get involved enough even among the team’s “garbage” nights, Gallant said.

“Lavey has had opportunities to play with good people and he’s played well at times but he’s inconsistent,” Gallant said on Wednesday. And again, there were a lot of them (it was a bad Tuesday). So you’re probably losing LaVey in practice today. I’m not saying there will be tomorrow. I don’t know where it will be tomorrow. Sometimes it’s a wake-up call for the kids.

Lafrenière’s dreams of a big payday in the second decade seem to be over unless he can step things up in those last 46 games. His mates seem to have figured out what to get them going – Philippe Schetl has the same 17 points as Lafrenière this season but in eight fewer games than Capo Kaku he has 15 points, two fewer than his teammates, but he’s been involved around the ball and netting as often as any Rangers striker this season.

He tells us that by taking his lines apart and fixing them again, Gallant only sends Lafrenière to the fourth line or perhaps to the press box. Kakko Skate on Wednesday with Kreider and Mika Zibanejad Chytil was among Lafrenière’s less skilled Vitali Kravtsov and Julien Gautier but both were more feisty on Tuesday.

General Manager Chris Drury has a team that is good enough to qualify for the playoffs. He has important contract decisions with Candy Miller and Chytil this off-season. There may be a decision for Lafrenière, but if things continue on the current path, it could be a matter of keeping the old first option or trading it in for another help rather than trying to decide what kind of contract Lafrenière deserves.

Even worse for Drury: Talent evaluators across the league can also see the problem. Lafrenière avait tout à fait le droit de s’attendre à plus d’opportunités lorsqu’il est arrivé en tant que premier choix annoncé and also all à fait the droit d’être déçu que ces opportunities ne se soient pas présentées depuis more deux years. But expectations go both ways: The Rangers certainly expected a hungry player who wouldn’t settle for third-row minutes and do more to win with more thrills.

“He has to decide what kind of player he’s going to be,” said the professional scout. “If a guy has low energy and takes pucks to the net, that’s what he has to do constantly. I don’t feel like he has an identity now. I think we saw him a little bit during the qualifiers but he got away from it after that.

(Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

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