Alexis Lafrenière had a solid second NHL season in 2021-22 with 19 goals — all of them at even strength, putting him second on the Rangers, behind only Chris Kreider (23) — and then an effective playoff run, posting nine points in 20 games while playing mostly on the Kid Line with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.
Lafrenière bounced around the lineup for much of last season, getting some work at right wing and playing a large chunk of the season at the bottom six. The Athletic caught up with Lafrenière earlier this week to discuss what he learned last season, left wing vs. right wing and whether the Kid Line has its own group chat.
(Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)
You played 99 total games, likely the most you’ve had in a single season. How has that impacted your offseason so far?
It was obviously a long run, we had a lot of fun and after the year I took a couple weeks off to just do something else. Spend some time with family and friends, started working out after. Took maybe three weeks off and then get right back in the gym. Little bit shorter of a summer but still working hard right now.
Would the Eastern Conference finals run be the thing that stands out the most?
You ask every player on our team and that’s the highlight of our year. We had an amazing run, played some good hockey and it was so much fun playing with these guys. It’s the most fun I’ve had in my career, playing in these playoffs. It was incredible for me.
How did you handle moving around the lineup? You started on the right side of the top line, dropped to the fourth line for a game and generally moved around a lot.
Some things you learn to manage as you play more and get older. You’re going to move up and down the lineup, it’s a long season so you always have to work as hard as you can, play as good as you can. You’re not always going to be at your best for 82 games so you have to learn to bring something else to the game. That’s what I tried to do and I think I got better at it.
On your first shift of the playoffs against the Penguins you nearly sent John Marino into the fifth row with a big hit that just missed. Did you try to ramp up your physical side for the playoffs?
I think so. Growing up you’re watching playoff hockey, you see how intense it is, how physical it is. That’s what I did in the playoffs. I tried to play hard, play physical, with our line, just get pucks to Fil and Kaapo. I think we had pretty good chemistry going too. Just trying to win every battle, that’s what you need.
OK, the left wing/right wing debate rages on. Do you have a preference?
Not really, honestly. For me, left wing, right wing, I’m ready to play wherever with whoever. Every line you’re on you’re playing with skilled players. Wherever I am next season, I’ll be ready.
If it’s a choice between first-line right wing and third-line left wing, what would you choose?
You always want to play more minutes, that’s for everyone. For me I want to do what’s best for the team. If it’s playing right wing, I’ll do it. I’ll talk with Turk (Gerard Gallant) at training camp and we’ll see what he’s thinking. It’s all what’s best for the team.
Are there things you can do during the summer to get more prepared for playing the right side?
Just some small details, working on the right side of the ice, breakouts, zone entries, stuff like that. It’s details but if you get more comfortable doing it you help yourself when it comes time to do that. I’m not changing my summer work a whole lot though.
If Gallant says it’s the Kid Line back together from Day 1 of camp, would that work for you?
Oh, for sure. They’re really good players and we had a really good chemistry together at the end. Whoever I’m with I’ll try to play my best hockey.
You had 19 goals, all at even strength, and then a solid postseason. Do you look back and say it was a good year for you?
I think so. I think I can give a lot more to the team, but I scored five-on-five and that’s part of my game I’m really working on. In playoffs it’s a lot of five-on-five hockey, you have to be able to score and create chances so that’s a lot of what I’m working on. Our first power play was unreal. They scored a lot of big goals for us so for me it was trying to be good five on five and I’m still trying to get better.
What was the thing you’ll remember most from the playoff run?
How we went down a couple times in the playoffs and we didn’t quit. Against Pittsburgh we were down 3-1, we never thought we were out of it. Against Carolina we win a big Game 7 in Carolina. It’s just understanding these are long series, it’s hard and you never get too down because you can come back.
You lost a couple regulars from last season, including Ryan Strome. Overall, are you happy that the core is still intact?
It’s tough to lose some good friends, Stromer, Kevin Rooney too, really good guys. It’s hard but it’s the business. We added some good players and we’re excited for that. Most of the guys from last year are back and I think we’re going to have a really good team again. I’m excited for training camp.
Guessing there’s a big team-wide group text, but does the Kid Line have its own, smaller group chat?
There’s a big group text with all the players, we text individually sometimes but the group text is the big one. The young guys don’t have their own.
(Photo: Danny Wild / USA Today)