TARRYTOWN | Alexis Lafrenière is still discovering the frenzy of a big city like New York. On the eve of his third season with the Rangers, the 20-year-old winger is going relatively incognito in Manhattan. There is still a star to be made in a megalopolis full of big stars.
Lafrenière has been heading for New York for almost three weeks now. He skates and trains at the Rangers training complex in Tarrytown, a small town in Westchester County that borders the Hudson River.
Here is a far cry from the Times madness Square. There are small cafes, restaurants and an old theater on the Main. Skyscrapers are non-existent, as are yellow cabs.
A shot of the theater in the heart of the small town of Tarrytown where the Rangers training complex is located.
In White Plains, where the number 13 of the Rangers shares an apartment for the summer with Samuel Blais, it is also quiet. There are big restaurant chains, big box stores like Target, a chain that has given up the ghost in Quebec, and a train station that takes you to Penn Station, right next to Madison Square Garden, in almost an hour.
“In a few days, I will move to Manhattan, I found an apartment, says Lafrenière. I wanted to stay close to Madison Square Garden and be in the heart of New York. I find it fun to be able to spend time in the city. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There are always things to discover. »
“Last year I was staying in White Plains. I don't think it's a big transition. When you play hockey, you are busy and you stay in your routine. But it's fun to be in New York. On my days off, I can walk around Manhattan, shop and go to restaurants with the guys. There are always things to do. »
A little slice of pie
Lafrenière was coming out of training with a dozen Rangers teammates, including Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, K' Andre Miller and Blais, when he met the representative of the Journal.
Dressed in a cotton sweatshirt bearing the letters of NYC and a cap of the Boston Red Sox, the enemy team of the Yankees, the young man from Saint-Eustache found himself in a much calmer context to talk about his reality. with the Rangers and in New York.
“I lead a pretty normal life,” he says. I can make myself recognized once in a while, but it's still quite rare. The city is quite big and there are two teams in all professional sports. I'm not a big star here! I may sign an autograph or take a picture on occasion, but it's nothing to worry about. »
In the land of the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Nets, the Rangers do not have a monopoly.
“Yes, it's good as an environment, I think there is a good balance, he replied. Yes, it's a big hockey market. There are several media outlets covering Rangers and we are playing in front of full stands at MSG. It's super nice. But there are so many other sports in New York. It's not just the Rangers who are getting attention. It gives a little more looseness. »
The magic of MSG
The former Rimouski Océanic's eyes light up when he talks about the Rangers amphitheater.
“I really love the atmosphere at MSG. Looks like there's some magic in the air. It's noisy from start to finish. When you score a goal, it's completely crazy. There are also fan routines and they have special shouts. »
A long wait
This particular atmosphere of a match at home, Lafrenière could not share it immediately with his relatives. In his rookie season in 2020-2021, he was alone on his island due to restrictions related to the COVID pandemic.
“I haven't seen my family and friends for six or seven months. I also found myself in a new country. Yes, I spoke good English, but it is not my mother tongue. There was an adjustment. When you're 19, you don't know what to expect. You don't have the same confidence in life. I got help from the guys here. I always feel more and more comfortable.
“My parents and my sister first watched a game at MSG in my second season in the NHL. They were there for the opener in New York. And in our third game of the season, we were in Montreal. I had scored at the Bell Center in a victory. »
Living with a label
“I don't think every day that I'm a first choice overall” – Lafrenière
The New York Rangers welcomed Alexis Lafrenière in French on a billboard in Times Square, on October 6, 2020, after drafting him first overall. Photo taken from the NHL.com website
TARRYTOWN | Alexis Lafrenière and Juraj Slafkovský will always share the same reality in the NHL, that of living with pressure from a top of the class to a draft.
In 2020, Lafrenière experienced that feeling in the first of two virtual drafts by becoming the New York Rangers' first pick. After Owen Power with the Buffalo Sabers in 2021, Slafkovský received the same honor from the Canadiens last July.
You quickly hear a little disappointment in Lafrenière's voice when talking about the 2022 draft.  ;
“I was not at the Bell Center. What did it do to me. It was supposed to be my year for the draft in Montreal. I would have liked to experience the emotions of a draft at home in front of my family and friends. I would have found that cool. I can do nothing. I still had a great experience with the virtual draft. It remains the same result, I got fished out. »
“It was special. I remember that I had seen images of the Empire State Building which was in the colors of the Rangers and that there was my face in Times Square with a word in French to welcome me. I freaked out a bit. I come from a small town in Saint-Eustache. I thought it was big, I was surprised. But it was a good time. »
From his personal experiences, Lafrenière would have a very logical recommendation for the future number 20 of the Canadiens.
“I would tell him to be himself and play his game. Whether things are going well or less well, he has to stay down to earth. There are so many good players and good teams in the NHL. There are nights when it's harder. It's just normal. »
Expectations to manage
Lafrenière does not have his head in the sand. He knows that there are expectations associated with being a first choice overall.
“I don't tell myself every day that I am a first choice overall and that I have to do this or that, he replied. I'm just trying to improve as a player and have better seasons year after year. I keep that mentality where I want to see progression in my game.”
“I think it's going well. I'm not a guy who's pressured by family or friends. I put pressure on myself on my shoulders. But I know there are times when it's not easy. Despite that, you still have to find ways to have fun and play well. »
In his first two seasons in the NHL, Lafrenière has not yet reached the status of an exceptional player. But there is progression in his game with seasons of 21 points in 56 games and 31 points in 79 games. Last year, number 13 especially raised his game during the long run of the “Blue Shirts” in the playoffs.
Even more confident
Lafrenière could win a role in one of the top two lines
Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Adam Fox have had their fair share of success over the past season.
TARRYTOWN | Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Since his debut with the Rangers, Lafrenière has lived his finest moments on the left wing of the trio dubbed the “kid line“.< /strong>
This third unit provided a great dose of energy to the “Blue Shirts” until their presence in the Eastern Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Author of nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 20 games, Lafrenière ended his second year on a very high note.
“Yes, it really gives me confidence,” he said. I played good hockey when it counted. I have always liked to play in big games, in series or in international tournaments. I feel like I find an extra breath when the stakes get even higher. I really like that. There is like a light that lights up in my game and I have even more energy. »
“I was intense and physical during the playoffs. It's part of the player that I am. It's hard to get him to 82 games in a season. But I have to become even more consistent. Toughness remains an important card in my game. I don't want it to go away. »
On the right wing?
There's Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider on the left flank with Rangers. If he wants to get an even bigger role with the Rangers, the former Rimouski Océanic could move to the right wing. Gerard Gallant has used it on the right in the past, but he always ended up bringing it back to its natural position.
“It's an option to play on the right,” admitted Lafrenière. I could have a chance at this position in an important role. I've played on the left wing all my life. It's more natural for me, but I don't think there's such a big difference. I would need to play a few games on the right, to have volume, to feel better. After that, I will find it more natural. I'm a hockey player, I can adapt to a change from left to right.
For his third season with the Rangers, Lafrenière is especially thirsty for a bigger role.
“I feel like I'm ready. We've lost a few big guys and now there's room in the top six. I would like to get a role there, but wherever I am used, I will want to give more. I can increase my offensive production since I have more confidence in my abilities and I know what to expect. I gained experience last year with the long run in the playoffs. »
And the Rangers will want to have a long run in the playoffs again this year. Gerard Gallant's team will be among the contenders for the big trophy, a feat that has eluded New York since Mark Messier in 1994.
TARRYTOWN | At 30, Chris Kreider, a first-round pick (19thin total) in 2009 reached the 50-goal plateau (52) for the first time in his career. It was by far his best season in the NHL.
Kreider is one of the best skaters and one of the best power forwards on the Bettman circuit. For Alexis Lafrenière, it can also serve as an inspiration. The American didn't become a prolific scorer overnight with the Rangers.
“The second I walked into New York, I I looked in the direction of Chris Kreider. He is a good role model. He always does the right things in practices, games, in the gym or outside of hockey. He has the same passion after several seasons in the NHL. For a young person like me, I couldn't ask for more inspiration. I get on well with him, he is a really good guy.
“He often talks to me during a game or practice. He knows we have a young team and he wants to share his experiences. He is very generous. »