Deep Dive: A Look Into Alexis Lafreniere’s Game
He’s been talked about for years as the incumbent No. 1 for the 2020 NHL Draft, and rightfully so.
Alexis Lafreniere has built up a resume second-to-none in the 2020 draft class.
As a 15-year old, he led Quebec Midget AAA in scoring, pacing the league in goals (33), assists (50) and points (83) in 2016-17.
He was 16 when he entered the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was named QMJHL and Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year after amassing 80 points (42 goals, 38 assists) in 60 games with Rimouski. Last season, at 17, he amassed 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 61 games, and was the CHL Player of the Year, recipient of the Michel Briere Trophy as the QMJHL’s most valuable player, and Paul Dumont Trophy as the QMJHL’s personality of the year.
Lafreniere continued to build up on his already overwhelming resume this season.
On top of putting up 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games, the Canadian forward once again won the CHL Player of the Year, the Michel Briere Trophy as the QMJHL’s most valuable player, the Paul Dumont Trophy as the QMJHL’s personality of the year and the World Junior Championship MVP.
So who is Alexis Lafreniere?
What is he good at?
What are some of the things he needs to improve on to successfully make the jump to the pro-level?
Lafreniere is, without a doubt, the smartest prospect available in 2020. He showcases his on-ice intelligence every shift as he breaks down defenses and makes incredible decisions with so much ease.
He constantly analyzes his opposition and processes information quicker than anybody else. He plays like a quarterback on offense, showing the ability to make defenders look foolish and pick apart the opposition with his excellent read and creativity. Lafreniere plays two steps ahead of his opponent, as he’s able to anticipate plays with his excellent offensive instincts and vision. He’s constantly aware of his teammates positioning too, which really help quicken his decision-making.
On this play, as he cuts to the open space, Lafreniere knows a teammate is trailing behind. He fakes the shot with a big windup and sets up his partner for the finish. A perfect display of how his offensive instincts can make him more deceptive and unpredictable.
Many times Lafreniere seems to already know where he’ll pass before even getting control of the puck, as he collects the information needed beforehand. This play is a perfect example of it. Since he already knows his teammate is right in front, Lafreniere reacts quickly as soon as he’s gifted the puck to hit him up with a great scoring chance. This is something only possible because of his excellent processing ability and strong anticipation.
Lafreniere, who turns 19 in October, is also incredibly deceptive with the puck, keeping the opposition guessing at all times. His ability to keep his opponents at his mercy opens up a realm of possibilities for him offensively, helping him take control of the game at any moment. He’s able to make the opposition think he’s going for a shot and fazed them with a perfect feed aside.
It’s one thing to be deceptive and creative, but Lafreniere also seems to always make the right play at the right time. Thanks to his great anticipation and awareness, he is able to collect and process information quickly, which leads to great decisions with the puck.
Although he loves to jump on the offense, he never hesitates to set back on his defenseman to help his team keep possession of the puck. He loves to make safe passes that help the play progress in the offensive zone and overwhelmed the opposition. If a teammate is in a better position, he’ll always set him up.
Sometimes, very small passes can make a difference and Lafreniere is quick to recognize the best play possible. He displays great poised and patience in possession of the disk. He stays calm under pressure, which allows him to make the best play possible as quickly as possible.
He’s able to control the pace of the play and drive the offense like any other special talent. He’s extremely versatile as he’s able to adapt to multiple roles and position at all time.
Lafreniere, naturally, is one of the best playmakers of the draft. He has a tremendous vision and he’s able to find his teammates up the ice with so much ease. Few prospects have the ability to identify open players as well and as quickly as him. His passing abilities are also elite.
Whether it’s from his backhand or forehand, his feeds are always hard and accurate. That makes him dangerous from anywhere up the ice as he can hit his men in transition, dish the puck at the perfect spot on the rush or make an excellent cross-ice set up in the attacking zone.
His playmaking is one aspect of his game that he truly improved over the past two seasons. As he gained more confidence in his abilities, his maturity, poised and calmness with the puck helped him find better passing lanes and make more efficient passes. It helped him get more involved in the action in all three zones, quickly becoming an even more impressive driver on his line.
Lafreniere is also a natural goal scorer. He is a constant scoring threat from anywhere up the ice and he has some complete and versatile goal scoring abilities. His puck delivery is smooth, effortless and very brisk, making him a real danger in the offensive zone.
He’s also excellent in tight areas where his quick hands help him find space for his release. His snap shot surprises many goalies with accurate shot on reception. He loves to get in the slot where he can get a brisk and deadly shot off quickly and bury rebounds around the net. Lafreniere has a very precise and accurate wrist shot. He doesn’t give much to goalies and forces them to make a save every time.
Using defensemen and teammates as screens, he’s able to fool goaltenders from pretty up high thanks to his heavy wrist shot. His shot power allows him to not only be a playmaking threat from the point, but also a scoring danger. His finishing skills are also excellent and he loves to jump on rebound in the crease to try to find the back of the net.
His 114 goals for Rimouski display perfectly his scoring versatility.
Lafreniere also showed the ability to deke out opponents and create space for his shot with his tremendous puck skills. He owns some very quick, shifty mitts, allowing him to blaze trough pokechecks and escape pressure.
He can split the defense and dance through the opposition effortlessly with quick, creative moves. He dodges opponents with such dexterity, helping him find skating lanes and create controlled zone entries with ease. His stickhandling abilities help him get out of tough situation along the board and create space in traffic to get a clean look for his shot. He also protects his puck very well, isolating the disk from the action to keep complete control of the puck through traffic.
He brings a physical presence along the boards, really helping him get opponents off his back and absorb hits without any difficulties. He is very tough to knock off the puck thanks to his great upper-body strength and balance.
He does a pretty decent job in corners, winning most of his board battles with his decent strength and great stick work. Lafreniere can be a pretty vicious hitter when he gets a good look, as he brings his good strength and intensity to finish his checks.
He’s also a decent defensive player. Much like when on offense, he reads and anticipates plays very well when defending. He uses his stick effectively to block shooting and passing lanes and he stays in position covering the point most of the time.
Probably his most well known flaw, Lafreniere has been often criticized for his lack of quickness, explosion and high-end speed. He’s not a bad skater, but he’s definitely not at the level you would expect a first overall pick to be.
He has drastically improved his top speed over the last two seasons and he’s now much more dangerous in transition, being able to step up for a breakaway or rush at any time. That said, he still has to work on his explosion. His first few steps sometimes feel a bit slow and he has difficulties getting rid of an opponent on his back. His acceleration and quickness simply needs more work, which is already a focus of his. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but something he will need to adjust as he prepares himself to make the jump to the NHL.
Still, Lafreniere has a pretty impressive mobility. His agility is excellent, showing the ability make quick direction changes to dodge opponents and create controlled zone entries. His turns are quick, helping him escape pressure and create space for himself. He has some decent edge work and lateral mobility too.
Lafreniere’s most inconsistent part of his game was his competitiveness.
As he showed in international events and important QMJHL games, Lafreniere is a super competitive and hard-working player who can leave his heart and soul on the ice every shift. He shows intensity on the forecheck, finishes his checks along the board and gets back on defense, which is rare for a player of his caliber.
Lafreniere simply failed to keep the same intensity on a daily basis with Rimouski, often gliding around the ice or cheating a bit on breakout. He can’t really be blamed for it at the moment considering the level of competition he was facing.
Despite being the weakest point of his play in the QMJHL, his compete level will be an asset moving forward. He already has answered the call in big moments and showed the drive to become a better player in all areas of the game.
Lafreniere is a smart, skilled and versatile offensive player that primarily uses his hockey senses and playmaking skills to dominate.
Those skills have him as the consensus top prospect in the upcoming draft.