LAFRE­NIERE ‘A SPE­CIAL PLAYER’ FOR CANADA

Teen sen­sa­tion not yet draft-el­i­gi­ble, but could be best Cana­dian ju­nior on the ice

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/Michael_Traikos

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.

MCLACH­LAN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS CODIE

Alexis Lafre­niere lifts the Hlinka Gret­zky Cup in Au­gust. He hopes to fol­low up with a world ju­nior ti­tle.

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