MONTREAL -- Alexis Lafreniere thinks the last time he was at Bell Centre was about four years ago for a Montreal Canadiens game whose details have fully escaped him. He couldn't tell you the final score, much less Montreal's opponent.
On Monday, sitting in the Canadiens alumni lounge under portraits of their captains through the decades, having just had a chat with the legendary Guy Lafleur, Lafreniere was considering what awaits him within these walls in June.
By all indications, the 18-year-old forward with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will be the No. 1 selection in the 2020 NHL Draft on June 26-27.
"Sometimes I think about the draft a little bit," said Lafreniere, who would be introduced to the Bell Centre crowd with fellow Quebec junior forwards Hendrix Lapierre and Dawson Mercer and defensemen Justin Barron and Jeremy Poirier.
"It's really hard to not think about it at all. But I'm focusing on the present moment and with the team we have in Rimouski. It's pretty easy to focus on the moment because I think we can do something special. I try to focus on that but sometimes for sure I'm thinking about the draft, a little bit."
Lafreniere (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) is the top-ranked North American skater on the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau midterm ranking. He is considered the complete package, an "exceptionally smart player with top-end speed and pull-away gear. … Great at carrying the puck and leading rushes, executes under pressure and has great vision and anticipation," the bureau report says.
"[Lafreniere has] high-end puck skills and vision to create plays in the offensive zone, an offensive and scoring threat every shift (with an) impressive compete level every time he's on the ice."
Lafreniere was selected the most valuable player at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. He had 10 points (four goals, six assists), playing only five games after missing two mid-tournament with a minor knee injury. He had two assists in the final to help Canada defeat Russia 4-3.
Video: Top 10 Plays of 2020 WJC: Lafreniere, Thomas
Add to that his having captained Canada to the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup championship and helping Canada Red finish second at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge it's clear why he is coveted by NHL scouts.
Lafreniere was enjoying the history all around him on a rare visit to the arena located about 25 miles from his hometown of Saint-Eustache. He would pose for a photo outside the Canadiens dressing room, in front of a display showcasing the team's 24 Stanley Cup titles and seemed a little star-struck, having chatted with Lafleur, the Hall of Fame forward.
"He's an NHL and Montreal Canadiens legend. That was really special," Lafreniere said. "We chatted about everything. It was nice to have a few words with him, and not just about hockey but about life. He had an unreal career."
With 89 points (27 goals, 62 assists) in 42 games this season with Rimouski, Lafreniere has helped pull his team to fourth place in the 18-team league.
If Lafreniere is trying to push thoughts of June out of his head and focus on the business at hand with Rimouski, he admits that he's paid more attention to draft weekend in recent years, "when you start to know more of the players and hope for sure that your buddy is going to get drafted.
"I don't have any expectations for the draft. I'll probably try to enjoy the moment. My buddies who have been drafted have told me it's a neat moment, and that I'll enjoy it."
On Monday, Lafreniere was happy just to soak up the atmosphere of a noisy arena, even though in the back of his mind he knows that four months down the road this building will change his life.
Photo courtesy Francois Lacasse, Montreal Canadiens