Rangers select Alexis Lafreniere with first-overall pick in NHL Draft

Watch as Alexis Lafreniere becomes the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft as he is taken by the New York Rangers.

The New York Rangers selected winger Alexis Lafreniere with the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft Tuesday.

In doing so, they've added the Rimouski Oceanic standout who recently became the only player aside from Sidney Crosby to nab back-to-back QMJHL MVP honours.

Lafreniere had 35 goals and 77 assists in just 52 games for the Oceanic in 2019-20, leading the CHL with a point-per-game rate of 2.15. That dominant campaign allowed the 18-year-old to capture the CHL player of the year award for the second straight season.

Lafreniere, who hails from Saint-Eustache, Que., is an NHL-ready prospect who's been slated to be taken first overall for more than a year now. He's been ranked atop Central Scouting's rankings since before the 2019-20 campaign began, and his stock hasn't wavered all season.

Of all his pro-calibre qualities — powerful skating, increasingly physical game, elite playmaking — his brain is his best asset. Lafreniere's agent, Emilie Castonguay, told Sportsnet earlier this year that his vision, compete level, and hockey I.Q. are what stand out the most as the qualities that will best help him transition into the NHL.

“When you have a player like that, it makes everybody around him better. Just the way that he’s able to see the game,” Castonguay 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.”

Many Canadians got a great look at Lafreniere's skillset during last winter's 2020 world juniors, where he shone in the international spotlight. His team-high 10 points (four goals, six assists) through five games propelled Canada to gold and saw him earn tournament MVP honours.

“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,” Castonguay said. “He’s not cocky, he just has a very quiet confidence and he lets his talent speak on the ice.”

Lafreniere will now join an up-and-coming Rangers team that recently re-tooled with some key additions — most notably dynamic winger Artemi Panarin, whose career-best 95-point campaign earned him a Hart Trophy nomination this season.

That accelerated rebuild has come with a youth movement as well, as New York added Finnish standout Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in last year's draft, and has fellow young stars like Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin in the fold, too.

After hearing his name called by Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton Tuesday night, Lafreniere said it was "a big honour" to be selected by the Rangers.

"Throwing on a Rangers jersey, it's pretty amazing," Lafreniere said on-air, from his home. "Growing up, you dream of being drafted in the NHL and just being able to have an NHL jersey -- and especially the New York jersey -- it's really unreal for me."

Post-pick, Gorton had plenty of praise for his newest prospect:

"I think it's how well-rounded he is," Gorton said from the Rangers' facility, where he announced the pick, when asked why he believes Lafreniere will be able to make an immediate impact with the Rangers. "Obviously when you go first overall, he's got skill, the talent's obvious, he can skate. But I think on top of that, it's his work ethic and the physical play. He's willing to do anything to win, putting the team first. You talk about five-tool players in other sports, we feel like he's got all the tools."

Gorton and the Rangers were the big winners of the NHL's two-phased draft lottery over the summer. Initially projected to select 10th overall based on league standings, the Rangers jumped into the top spot during Phase 2 after being ousted from the return-to-play qualifying round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Rangers also held another first-round selection Tuesday night, thanks to a trade with the Hurricanes back in February that sent forward Brady Skej to Carolina. New York was slated to make its second pick of the night at the No. 22 slot, but wound up trading into the 19th spot in a deal with the Calgary Flames. With the 19th overall selection, the Rangers addressed their blue line with the addition of Braden Schneider, a big defenceman out of the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings.

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