World Juniors 2019: Alexis Lafreniere taking classes in stride underneath Canada’s microscope | NHL


VANCOUVER — Don Hay didn’t know a lot about Alexis Lafreniere previous to assembly the teenager at Hockey Canada’s Below-18 choice camp final spring.

Lafreniere, recent off a rookie season with the Rimouski Oceanic the place he scored a team-leading 42 targets and 80 factors in 60 video games, rapidly made an impression on the veteran WHL coach.

“I preferred how aggressive he was,” Hay stated. “He actually wished the puck in all conditions. He wished the puck and he wished to make a distinction. He’s aggressive, he’s an excellent skater, he’s obtained nice hockey sense, so these are actually good tangibles to have.”

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Lafreniere completed the Below-18 event with 4 targets and two assists in 5 video games because the youngest participant on Staff Canada at simply 16.

He then captained Staff Canada on the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, main the best way with 11 factors in 5 video games because the Canadians received gold.

“Each expertise is huge. I feel U-18s helped me so much with my sport and I am making an attempt to convey it right here,” Lafreniere stated. “Each time I put on Canada’s jersey, it’s a giant honor so I attempt to convey each expertise on the ice.”

Hay, who has coached Canada at each the 1995 and 2012 World Juniors and the 2013 and 2018 Below-18s, has seen his share of particular expertise come by the nationwide program at a younger age.

“I feel that the proficient youngsters like (Lafreniere) and Connor McDavid, once I was teaching the Below-18s in 2013, they only appear to belong with that group,” Hay continued. “They only carry themselves, they’ve had success by being youthful and so they actually slot in properly with the older teams that they get put in to.”

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Lafreniere additionally left an impression on lots of his older teammates, together with New Jersey Devils prospect Ty Smith.

“He’s obtained a ton of ability. It doesn’t matter that he’s a youthful man, he suits proper in and performs laborious,” stated Smith, who’s a part of the Canadian World Junior blue line. “It’s actually spectacular. I imply, 17-year-olds don’t actually play for Canada; provided that it’s a particular case. He’s a particular participant.”

Often called “Laffy” to his teammates, the 2018 CHL rookie of the 12 months is Canada’s youngest member on the 2019 World Juniors and the ninth-youngest ahead ever to signify the nation within the event. He additionally has a popularity as a little bit of a jokester across the room. 

“He’s a reasonably outgoing character. He likes to have enjoyable, the man is de facto free within the room,” Smith stated. “He’s an excellent man. I suppose he gels properly with different guys and he likes to have enjoyable and work laborious.”

Lafreniere, the early favourite to be the highest choice on the 2020 NHL Draft, is being challenged to spherical out the defensive aspect of his sport.

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Lafreniere’s play with out the puck has been a problem relationship again to his days in midget hockey.

Now Canadian coach Tim Hunter is pushing the 17-year-old to be higher with out the puck.

“It’s 14-Zero and I wasn’t happy with the best way he was taking part in,” Hunter stated of Canada’s event opener in opposition to Denmark. “It’s typical of younger guys. They assume it’s in regards to the factors and never the method. Then you consider the subsequent sport (in opposition to Switzerland). So the subsequent sport if it’s happening, it’s a must to curb it and hope it doesn’t occur once more. That’s the way you coach. It’s how guys get higher.”

Hunter’s message was obtained loud and clear by the 6-1, 192 pound ahead, who scored his first purpose of the event in Canada’s 5-1 win over the Czech Republic.

“I feel he’s proper. I’ve to enhance my defensive sport and (play) with out the puck. I’ve to get higher and that’s what I’m making an attempt to do,” Lafreniere stated. “After I don’t have the puck, simply attempt to bear in mind the place all the opposite gamers are and you realize simply attempt to be good positionally and simply attempt to cease on pucks.”

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In response to ISS Hockey scout Ben Gallant, Lafreniere’s defensive woes are typical of offensive abilities taking part in within the QMJHL.

“I feel offensive guys within the Q, there’s quite a lot of strong defensive guys, however offensive, expert guys within the Q actually simply wish to be offensive guys,” Gallant stated. “While you’re an offensive expert man, you may get away with being an offensive expert man just a little bit extra within the Q in comparison with the O, it looks as if.”

Whereas his defensive sport wants work, Lafreniere’s offensive expertise has scouts raving about his potential.

“He’s actually good at seeing the open man and profiting from small area or gentle pockets of area, particularly within the offensive zone or in transition,” Gallant stated. “That is the place he’s clearly handiest. On the facility play, he’s actually artistic, makes use of area properly, will get into area properly.”

Coming into Wednesday’s QMJHL motion, Lafreniere is fifth in league scoring with 17 targets and 37 assists in 31 video games regardless of being away with Staff Canada since Dec. 10.

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Joe Veleno is aware of Lafreniere’s abilities first hand. The Drummondville ahead, Lafreniere’s World Juniors teammate, has had a number of battles on the ice with the Oceanic star in QMJHL conferences.

“He’s obtained some expertise that not too many guys have. Clearly within the Q we prefer to struggle round a bit,” Veleno stated. “You’ve obtained to comprise him properly within the corners. He’s shifty. He’s obtained a number of methods up his sleeve so clearly you wish to be bodily with him and never give him an excessive amount of area with the puck.”

A local of Saint-Eustache, an off-island suburb of Montreal in western Quebec, Lafreniere is poised to grow to be the primary participant from his residence city to listen to his title known as at an NHL draft. However in an effort to have success on the subsequent stage, Lafreniere might want to make changes.

“I feel he’ll want so as to add some weight simply so he can reach extra battles,” Gallant stated. “He’s fairly aggressive already by way of puck battles and stuff like that, particularly down low offensively — that’ll assist as he will get greater and stronger.

“Only a dedication to purchasing right into a system defensively will assist so much, too.”

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