by Sylvain Godin | OSJ Staff
Well, here we are, now past the halfway mark of the season and, as most of us expected, Ottawa is ranked near the bottom of the league. So, what does this mean, exactly? Well, it means the Sens have a pretty good shot at the number one pick overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. And who is the consensus number 1 draft pick?
Let's take a closer look at the young player from the QMJHL who has set himself above and beyond others eligible for the draft - a draft that is considered one of the deepest in years. The Senators need a game-breaker like Lafreniere. Take nothing away from Brady Tkachuk; they're much different players and both serve a need for the Senators, but Lafreniere ‘is’ absolutely the missing piece for this young rebuild. So let’s delve into who Lafreniere is so everyone knows a bit about the player:
Name: Alexis Lafreniere Height: 6’1 Weight: 192 Shoots: Left Position: Left Winger
All Lafreniere does is score goals and make plays. Looking at his first year in the QMJHL (two years before he's even eligible for the NHL draft), he had 80 points (42 goals, 38 assists) in 60 games and has only gotten better since. The following year: 105 points in 61 games. This season, Lafreniere has 73 points in 34 games. Over the full season, you’re looking at 140+ points in 60 or so games. That’s good for nearly 2.5 points a game. His ceiling just seems to get higher and higher.
At the World Juniors: Lafreniere had 10 points in 5 games, three of which were played on a lower body injury which looked like it could end his tournament if not his season. Again, a 2 points per game pace against the best of the best in his age group. That’s mighty impressive. So, with the points out of the way, what exactly are people saying this player is?
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman reported: “Lafreniere attacks the net, has some physicality in his game and gets a lot of goals in the dirty areas,” Remind you of anyone on the Senators' team right now who plays on the wing? IIS Hockey described him as a “high-impact forward … can control and dominate games … corrals bad passes with ease … great hands … makes smart decisions quickly.”
Lafreniere has the potential to be the league's next superstar and that will certainly help slumping ticket sales in Ottawa. As a French-Canadian superstar, he and Thomas Chabot will also help the team win over new fans on the Gatineau side of the river. I feel like, for a city that struggles to build an identity, being stuck in the middle between the hated Habs and Leafs, the Sens need someone, or something, to reset the identity of this team.
It’s time for new Alfie, but in the form of Lafreniere.
Possible line setup for 2020/2021? One of the moves I expect to see, honestly, is moving on from Jean-Gabriel Pageau. I love Pager, but I don’t think he’ll be taking a discount to stay with Ottawa. I think he'll try his luck with another team to try to win. Just as importantly, the offers that Pierre Dorion will receive for him will be, in my opinion, too good to pass up.
So, let’s say the Senators win the lottery and get Lafreniere, Pageau is traded and replaced by Logan Brown. Let’s also assume for this exercise that UFAs leave and RFAs get re-signed for at least one more year. Here’s how the lines might look:
Lafreniere/White/Duclair Tkachuk/Tierney/Batherson Paul/L. Brown/C.Brown Anisimov/Chlapik/Ryan
Some of the UFA names may be gone (like Anisimov and Tierney) by the trade deadline, and a lot of these players can play multiple roles so you could move a few things around. But White/Brown/Chlapik are most likely your Centers which means that’s where your weakness will be. At this time, we have no idea if any of these will pan out to be a true 1C and that’s where you would use your second pick (Byfield at number 2? Thanks, San Jose!).
But, even with no movement, this is the start of a rather young core that can build and grow. Let’s not forget that the Sens also have centre Josh Norris and winger Alex Formenton – both having excellent AHL seasons - among other possible front-line prospects to put into the team. Lafreniere would set the team up to have a solid first line. I believe Batherson has the potential to move past Duclair onto that top line and, if you could somehow also get Byfield with your second pick, a line of Lafreniere/Byfield/Batherson would make Sens fans giddy; shades of the famous Pizza line of the past.
Lafreniere is no doubt the gem of this draft. One can only cross their fingers that Ottawa gets that lucky. But, with being French, a superstar in the making and a name recognition that could easily bring fans back to the arena, you almost want to go over to the draft lottery machine and rig that sucker in Ottawa’s favour. Time will tell if the Senators get the top prize or miss out. But, no matter where Ottawa picks, they'll come away with two really great players.
But Lafreniere is, far and away, the crème of the crop.