If Alexis Lafreniere truly is available, here's why the Leafs should put in a call to the Rangers

Published December 30, 2022 at 12:47
The Athletic's Arthur Staple created quite the stir on Thursday when he suggested that the New York Rangers may be preparing to deal 2020 1st overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, despite the fact that the 21-year-old has not yet even played three full NHL seasons. The Rangers made Lafreniere a healthy scratch for last night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, sending the message that, to this point, he simply hasn't been good enough.

Lafreniere posted a career-high 31 points in 79 games last season and so far this season, he has managed just 17 points in 36 games. While he's on pace to best his career-high in points from last season, the roughly 38 points that he's on pace for this season is well below a player of his talent and pedigree should be producing.

If the rumours are true, I think the Rangers may be looking at this from a perspective of wanting to deal the player while he still has some value. As far as what that value is, well, that's certainly the question. The rumoured ask from the Rangers is a 1st round pick and a high-end roster player, but as we well know, an ask is simply that - an ask. The difference between what a team wants and what a team gets can be vastly different.

The Leafs were a millimeter away from their ping pong ball being sucked up at the 2020 NHL draft lottery, which would have given them the right to draft Lafreniere 1st overall that year. If Lafreniere is available now via trade, I think the Leafs would be foolish to not at least consider it, as long as the price is reasonable.

It's not often that 1st overall picks are outright flops. Most of them go on to be at least competent NHL players with a lot of them becoming NHL stars. With just 2 and a half seasons under his belt - one of which was a pandemic-shortened 56-game campaign, it's still reasonable to suggest that Lafreniere still has room to grow and could blow up at any time. If the Leafs have even the slightest belief that the player can reach his full potential under their guidance and tutelage, it would be silly to not take that chance - even if the asking price is high.

Lafreniere amassed 217 points in 113 games over his final two years of Major Junior before COVID changed everything. The Rangers then chose not to return him to Rimouski (QMJHL) and did not loan him to Team Canada at the 2021 World Juniors in hopes that he could step right into their lineup at the NHL level and be an impact player as a rookie. As a result, he missed some important developmental opportunities and is yet to really find his footing as an NHLer.

The Leafs have shown an ability to be able to help young players and struggling players who once had high ceilings to rebound nicely and set them up for success. We saw it with Alex Galchenyuk and we're seeing it now with Conor Timmins. If the Leafs can get their hands on a 21-year-old Lafreniere and allow their development staff to take some time with him, perhaps they can help Lafreniere re-discover some of that magic that we saw from him in the QMJHL.

Laf may be a great fit with a forward-thinking Leafs team that thinks the game differently than a lot of other teams. They've built a skilled core and they play the game the right way. If they can help Lafreniere find his identity and allow him to play his game, perhaps he's the natural solution to the team's need at 2LW. The Leafs have a spot available there and with Lafreniere still on his ELC, he'll be a cost-effective solution this year and since his production on his ELC is low, the Buds should be able to bridge him at a reasonable price this summer. Honestly, if the Rangers are listening to offers, the Leafs don't have a whole lot to lose by making an offer that they're comfortable with. From there, it's in fate's hands. If it's meant to be, great. If it's not, well - at least they'll have shot their shot.
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