Rangers top-overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere, who turns 19 Sunday, takes his first shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: How do you feel about the pressure of being the first-overall pick? How will you deal with it and the spotlight on the big stage?
A: I see pressure as a privilege. I am the type of player that wants to be on the ice when we are down or up a goal with two minutes left in a game. I welcome the pressure because it means you are someone that is counted on to make a difference. And that is what motivates me.
Q: How would you describe your mentality on the ice?
A: I’d describe my mentality as very competitive and cerebral. I am a fierce competitor, and I like to read and slow the game down to try to find plays and opportunities for myself or my teammates on the ice.
Q: It’s been said that you play with an edge. Do you agree, and why do you play with an edge?
A: I guess it comes from my competitive nature and style. I like to set the tone of the game not only with offensive plays, but also by being physical. I feel like it gets me into the game and really helps me feel confident in all areas of the ice. Games have certain moments where the momentum can shift so quickly, and so I like to help create those moments on the ice for my team.
Q: What drives you?
A: Simple: My desire to win.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any winger in NHL history, who would you want to sit down with, and why?
A: Patrick Kane. He has been an idol of mine for a long time and a guy I watched a lot growing up. I love how crafty he is with the puck and how he can accelerate so quickly with it and deceive opponents. The way he is able to come out of situations with the puck and create a scoring chance or make an incredible pass almost seamlessly has always amazed me. I used to watch a lot of video of him growing upon and try to imitate his game. He is also a very competitive player, which I like. [Artemi] Panarin is also a player I love to watch. I guess I’ll be able to pick his brain soon enough!
Q: What impresses you about Panarin?
A: His work ethic on the ice is relentless. I have never met him, but I assume off the ice he is the same. He is able to make plays no one else sees on the ice. His creativity is off the charts and his quick release shot is lethal. I have a lot to learn from him and I cannot wait to soak it all in.
Q: What area of your game do you think you need to improve?
A: As an offensive forward, I think you always want to improve your defensive game. It is something I take a lot of pride on improving. I really want to become a complete player. There are a lot of things I want to improve on overall, even the things I am good at. The NHL is a league where you always have to keep improving. Every year the players seem to get better, faster, stronger and more skilled. I am the type of person who is never satisfied in that department, and so I will always work on improving all aspects of my game.
Q: Tell Rangers fans what kind of player you are — a personal scouting report.
A: I am a competitive power forward who likes to be creative and use my teammates as much as possible on the ice. I bring intensity and passion every single shift and I like to use my body as much as my hands to create opportunities on the ice.
Q: Which goaltender in NHL history would you have loved to challenge on a breakaway, and why?
A: Probably Carey Price. He is just so technically solid in net and doesn’t leave you much space. Plus I’d love to score against my childhood team [Canadiens].
Q: Describe what the last few days have been like for you.
A: The last few days have been a bit surreal. You dream of this moment for so long. It is hard to believe it has actually happened. All those hours I’ve spent in the gym, on the ice, traveling to games. Getting to be drafted in the NHL makes all those sacrifices worth it. It feels exactly the way I thought it would, only better.
Q: Why didn’t you like the comparisons to Sidney Crosby?
A: I just feel like the only reason the comparisons were made was because we both played in Rimouski as the first-overall QMJHL [Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] pick. I do not like to compare myself to any particular player. Obviously, Crosby is one of the best players of all time, and so I wouldn’t dare compare myself to him. I just want to be Alexis Lafreniere, and my benchmark will always be to surpass myself and make myself better.
Q: Which NHL player reminds you of yourself?
A: Like I said, I do not like to compare myself to any particular player. It’s something I like to avoid. I let the analysts have fun with that question.
Q: What do you know about Rangers coach David Quinn?
A: I know he has a pretty inspiring story. He was a high NHL pick who struggled with some medical issues and was forced to retire as a pro hockey player early. He came back and persevered to try and play again for a bit later, which proves his love and passion for the game in my eyes. He coached at the NCAA level for a while, and so I think he is the type of coach that likes to work with young players and demands a lot in terms of work ethic from his players. I look forward to learning from him and building a relationship. He was a defenseman as a player, and so I am sure he will help me become a complete player like I want to be.
Q: What is your best hockey moment so far?
A: I’d have to say winning the WJC [World Junior Championship] in 2020 in Ostrava [in Czech Republic]. The way we battled back from numerous setbacks to win gold was really a testament to the group of guys we had in that locker room. You dream of playing in that tournament as a kid and imagine winning gold. But when you put the Canadian jersey on and win gold for your country, it is truly an amazing feeling and for sure the best one I’ve had so far in my young career.
Q: Worst hockey moment?
A: I’d have to say being eliminated early from the WJC in 2019 at home in Vancouver in front of all our fans. We had high expectations, and we fell short. But I learned a lot as a player in the process, and so it has helped me grow as a player and a person. I guess I could also say not being able to say goodbye to the fans in Rimouski and finish out the year and the playoffs because of the pandemic. Everything ended so quickly and without warning. The fans in Rimouski deserved better, and we felt we had a good team to make a run for my last season. But once again, the health of people was the priority and that is something we all understood as players.
A: I am not a very superstitious guy. I like to not add anything too heavy to my routine. I find that is a dangerous road to go down. If something goes wrong, it will throw you off your game, and so I like to keep things simple and not worry about those things. I tie my left skate before my right skate always. Not sure if it is just out of habit. But that is about it.
A: I like to play other sports, like basketball and baseball, and more recently I’ve really taken up golf. I like to hang out with my friends and be with my family a lot. Of course I like playing video games a bit. I like to play against my friends that live and play in other cities. It’s a way for us to hang out even when we are far away.
Q: How did you celebrate after the draft?
A: COVID rules in Quebec made it that we couldn’t have a huge party, and so it was just me and my family for the night of the draft. I was able to see my friends outdoors and celebrate a bit with them. It was a special moment for me and regardless of how it played out it is a moment I will never forget.
Q: What was your favorite childhood hockey memory growing up?
A: My favorite hockey memory growing up is probably all the fun times I had with my teammates. The boys I grew up playing with are still my best friends today, and so for me the bonds I created with those guys and the memories we shared playing the sport we love is something very meaningful to me and something that can never be broken. We all shared the same passion for hockey and created so many memories together. More than I can count.
Q: Where did you first begin playing hockey? Which rink or pond did you skate at most?
A: I first started skating when I was about 2 years old. I started playing organized hockey at the age of 5. There was an outdoor rink near my home in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, and we would spend a lot of time out there playing. I also liked to practice in my basement a lot. I’d simulate NHL games and really play out every detail of the game: face-offs, penalties, each player’s name. I’d act as one or sometimes many players. I’d even use a cucumber to make my own mouthpiece to make it feel more real. All of this was in my imagination of course, but it worked for me!
Q: How are you like your father Hugo and how are you like your mother Nathalie? Which one are you more like?
A: I think one thing I certainly get from both is my competitive nature. They are both as equally competitive. So it makes it fun at home whenever we play sports or board games. My sister is the same way. We want to win so badly and can be sore losers at times, ha-ha. Other than that, I’d say I am a good mix of both. My parents really taught me and my sister great values. They really pride themselves on how they treat others, acting with integrity, working hard to earn everything you get, living your life to the fullest and most importantly on being humble. I really look up to my parents for who they are as people, and I am grateful for all the sacrifices they have made to help me get here.
Q: What has your sister Lori-Jane meant to you? And tell me about playing with her in the driveway.
A: My sister is very important to me. Her and I have a great relationship, and I know I can count on her for anything. She has made a lot of sacrifices to help me get where I am today. She often took a backseat so that my parents could help me in my career and follow me everywhere. She never complained about it once. I will never be able to thank her enough for that. When we were younger, I’d ask her to go in net, and I’d spend hours shooting on her. I’d even get mad at her when she wouldn’t cover all her angles, because I needed to be more challenged to get better. Looking back now, I realize how important my own dreams were to her, and I hope she knows her dreams are just as important to me.
Q: How often have you been to New York, and what places are you looking forward to see or visit?
A: I have never been to New York. I hear I am in for a nice surprise!
Q: What do you know about Madison Square Garden?
A: I know it is an historic building that has seen many great sports moments, artists and other events. It is a building that is important to New Yorkers, and I plan to give my best every time I get to play there to hopefully create more great moments.
Q: Who were your favorite baseball players growing up?
A: That is an easy answer: Derek Jeter.
Q: What did you like about playing shortstop?
A: You need to make quick and agile decisions on the field. You also need to analyze the play well and have a strong arm. You need to be a good communicator out there, and so it’s a very do-it-all position.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Kobe Bryant, Patrick Kane, Kawhi Leonard.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “The Blind Side.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Adam Sandler.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: A good steak.
Q: Since 11 is not possible, having been retired for Mark Messier, what number will you be?
A: I guess you will have to wait and see.
Q: What do you remember about Messier as a player, especially when the Rangers won the 1994 Cup?
A: I wasn’t born when the Rangers won in 1994. I was 3 years old when Mark Messier retired. But I hear great things about him, and I will get to speak to him soon, as his sister, Mary Kay Messier, is someone I work closely with at Bauer Hockey, and we have plans to speak via Zoom very soon to get to know each other. Every piece of advice he will have for me I will take to heart.
Q: How close do you think you are to making your Rangers debut?
A: Good question! I guess you would have to ask Gary Bettman, Don Fehr and Coach Quinn that question!
Q: What message would you want to give New York Rangers fans?
A: Thank you so much for the warm welcome. I felt it even from far away. I cannot wait to get to New York and meet you and play in front of you. I am honored and blessed to be chosen by such an amazing organization that has such a rich history. I promise to give my all day in and day out for you and the team. I cannot wait to get started!
Q: Describe what you were doing in your childhood Stanley Cup dream.
A: Lifting it up and celebrating with my teammates.
Q: What are your personal goals and career goals?
A: Win with the New York Rangers and have a lot of fun doing it.