Alexis Lafrenière knows a thing or two about big moments. The kid from Quebec has a knack for rising to the occasion on hockey’s biggest stages.
Thursday night, with the Rangers on a four-game schneid (and 1-4-1 to start the season), sitting in the East Division’s basement and desperately needing a win, Lafrenière did his thing.
With the game in overtime and after a turnover in the neutral zone, he took off for the net and buried a pass from Colin Blackwell for his first NHL goal.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Lafrenière said postgame via Zoom of the goal that gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory. “Overtime, a game-winning goal, it was really special and I’ll never forget this moment for sure.”
After going scoreless in his first six NHL games, Lafrenière — as he noted — now has some weight taken off his shoulders. The No. 1 pick in October entered the league with high expectations. While he was pointless until Thursday night, he also was getting opportunities, with 21 shot attempts and 12 scoring chances (seven high-danger), per Natural Stat Trick.
He had a number of chances Thursday to get that all-important first marker, but Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark stoned him each time — until he didn’t. According to Sportsnet Stats, the 19-year-old forward is “the first player selected first overall in the NHL Draft to have his first career NHL goal occur in OT.”
“Obviously everybody talks about his world-class talent but this guy’s a ballsy kid. He really is,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “I don’t care if he’s the first pick or the 217th pick, he’s a ballsy kid. He’s a kid you want to be around.”
With the monkey now off the kid’s back, Quinn hopes for big things from his rookie sensation. As he noted, pulling a quote from Rangers legend Mike Gartner, who equated goals with bananas, when a sniper scores that first one, they usually come in bunches.
“The thing I loved about him, he never got frustrated,” said Quinn. “He kind of knew that, eventually, he was going to score a goal, he was going to get rewarded for doing the things he’s doing. and that’s what happened.”