LAFRENIERE ‘A SPECIAL PLAYER’ FOR CANADA
Teen sensation not yet draft-eligible, but could be best Canadian junior on the ice
When it comes to the world junior hockey championship, North American Central Scouting ’s Mark Seidel believes the two-week tournament will be “the coming-out party” of projected No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes of the United States.
That is, if a kid who isn’t drafteligible until 2020 doesn’t hog all the attention.
“The story is going to be Alexis Lafreniere,” said Seidel. “I think he’s going to make that team and be a big, big part of that team. This kid is a special player. If you ask me whether I’d take Lafreniere or Hughes, I’ll take Lafreniere.”
The native of Saint-Eustache, Que., who is the youngest player invited to this week’s selection camp in Victoria, is trying to follow in Connor McDavid’s footsteps by making Team Canada a year before he is draft-eligible.
Like McDavid, Lafreniere comes to the camp with impressive credentials. Last season, while playing for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he scored 42 goals — the most by a rookie since Sidney Crosby scored 54 in 2003-04. This year, he already has 17 goals and is tied for third in league scoring with 54 points in 31 games.
On a Canadian team that lacks big-name talent up front — Arizona’s Barrett Hayton is the only top-five pick — there could be a spot waiting for the six-foot, 180-pound Lafreniere. After all, he led Canada to a gold medal at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, where he finished first in scoring with five goals and 11 points in five games, including the championship game-winner.
“He’s got some Mario Lemieux in him,” Seidel said of the 17-year-old, whose Oct. 11 birthday is less than a month after the draft cut-off date. “He’s that big and that smart and uses his body to score. He’s still got a year and a half to go, so we’ll find ways to pick him apart, but I think he’s going to make it and play a big role for them.”
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
The good news is that the Edmonton Oilers have won four straight to climb back into a playoff spot. The bad news is that McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined for 10 of the team’s 16 goals (62.5 per cent) during that span. In other words, new coach Ken Hitchcock hasn’t really changed a thing with how this team plays … Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin averaged 19 minutes in October, 20 minutes in November and is above 25 minutes in December. With each game, the rookie defenceman’s comfort level grows. No disrespect to Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dahlin’s name is on the Calder Trophy when all is said and done … As of Wednesday morning, Frederik Andersen had the 10th-best goals-against average. Sitting one spot above him was Curtis McElhinney, whom the Leafs placed on waivers before the season. Don’t tell me Mike Babcock hasn’t noticed also … Toronto doesn’t need a Matt Martin type to keep the flies off Auston Matthews. But if the Leafs want to keep their young star healthy, Babcock needs to find a grinder who can go in the dirty areas and get Matthews the puck. That used to be Zach Hyman’s job, until he was moved to John Tavares’ line. Too bad they don’t have Josh Leivo, whom Vancouver basically acquired to do the same job for Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
HERE’S ONE FOR YOU
Nashville defenceman Roman Josi is ranked in the top 10 with 115 shots. That’s one less than goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin. Of course, Ovechkin has 25 goals already because of a laseraccurate 21.6 shooting percentage. Josi, who only has five goals, has a 4.3 shooting percentage … The Penguins are struggling and suddenly all fingers are pointing toward Phil Kessel, who’s apparently on the trading block. It makes no sense. With a teamleading 33 points in 29 games, Kessel is on pace for 93 points. If I’m GM Jim Rutherford, the guy I’m shopping around is Derick Brassard (nine points in 20 games) … When the NHL’s Board of Governors voted to move the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division, deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied this was the precursor to physically relocating the troubled franchise to Houston. Less than a week later, the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets has reportedly met with commissioner Gary Bettman about buying and relocating the troubled franchise to Houston. Here’s betting the Coyotes are playing in Texas before Seattle opens its season … Don’t remember where I heard it, but best idea for Seattle’s team name is the StarPucks. And then having the players’ names all spelled wrong on the back of the jerseys.
Alexis Lafreniere lifts the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August. He hopes to follow up with a world junior title.