Every so often, an elite talent comes along that shuts down all possible debate for an entire year about whose name will be called first overall in June.
Though this year is different in many ways – including that we’ll hear his name called not from a stage in June but a studio in October – one thing has stayed consistent: From the first rankings to the final, Alexis Lafreniere has carried the crown all year as the best player in the class of 2020.
Here’s what you need to know about the consensus No. 1 overall pick of 2020. (Spoiler: you’re gonna read the word “elite” a lot. It cannot be helped.)
Age: 18 (Oct. 11, 2001)
Position: Left wing
Current team: Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Hometown: Saint-Eustache, Que.
Weight: 193 pounds
He’s a complete, NHL-ready player
Here’s what NHL Central Scouting wrote in their final rankings report:
Exceptionally smart player with top-end speed and pull-away gear. Great at carrying the puck and leading rushes. Executes under pressure and has great vision and anticipation – very good quickness with the puck and exceptional ability to change speed. Elite puck skills and visions to create plays in the offensive zone.
He’s poised to be the next elite NHL playmaker
As a rookie in the QMJHL, the winger tallied 42 goals and 38 assists for 80 points. He upped his points total by 25 and broke the 100-point plateau as a sophomore in 2018-19, then tallied 35 goals, a whopping 77 assists and a league-leading 112 points through 52 games of the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.
This season also saw the captain tally seven four-point games, three five-point games, and on Feb. 16 he registered a seven-point game against the Quebec Remparts — in just a period and a half.
His best asset is his brain
When you watch him play, it’s tough to find any faults. He’s a powerful skater, a physical presence, an elite puck-mover and can drive to the net with force. And despite his superstar status, he’s not afraid to dig in the corners.
Lafreniere’s agent, Emilie Castonguay, said it’s his hockey I.Q., vision and compete level that really separate him from his peers and leads him to be such a next-level playmaker.
“When you have a player like that, it makes everybody around him better. Just the way that he’s able to see the game,” she said. “For me, when I look at a player – especially of his talent – the first thing you notice is every time he’s on the ice or every time he touches the puck, the game just slows down. There’s not a lot of players that are able to do that. Since he was very young, every time he’s been on the ice at every level, that’s what he’s been able to do.”
Alexis Lafreniere is going to be a problem in the League!
— NHL (@NHL) March 5, 2020
He’s the best in Rimouski since Crosby
Up until now, fellow Rimouski Oceanic star Sidney Crosby was the only player to have won CHL Player of the Year twice – Crosby won as a rookie and in his draft year in 2004-05. Lafrieniere, who earned CHL rookie-of-the-year honours in 2017-18 and CHL player of the year last season, joined Crosby for this honour when he won the award a second time in 2019-20. The two are also the only players to win back-to-back QMJHL MVPs.
It’s an easy comparison to make – same junior team, similar reputation for being a complete player, and leadership. Though, it’s not exactly a fair one, considering Crosby’s pre-draft hype as a generational talent and his illustrious career that fulfilled exactly that – and more.
“He played in Rimouski, and I did too. That’s something people say,” Lafrenière told Tal Pinchevsky in The New York Times in March 2019. “But I’m not Crosby. I just try to be myself and play my game. If I can watch Crosby play and do things like he do, for sure I will do it to try to get better, but I don’t think I’m Crosby.”
NHL Central Scouting listed Jonathan Huberdeau as the best current player comparable for Lafreniere’s skillset, but the soon-to-be NHLer said the player he most models his game after is actually Patrick Kane:
“What he can do on the ice, under pressure and in big moments, he can be the difference-maker,” Lafreniere said during an NHL videoconference in April. “Always watched him growing up and he’s still my favorite player.”
He’s a proven big-game player
Lafrenière hit prime time on the international stage at the 2020 world juniors, and boy did he put on a show. He was a high-impact playmaker every time he hit the ice, leading Team Canada to gold with his team-high 10 points (four goals, six assists) through five games. He earned tournament MVP honours in the process.
“He likes to be in big games, he likes to be counted on in big moments and he’s been able to perform in big moments and I think that’s because he’s got such composure and a confidence in himself – like a quiet confidence, in a way,” said Castonguay. “He’s not cocky, he just has a very quiet confidence and he lets his talent speak on the ice.”