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Lafreniere taking Hughes' advice as top prospect for 2020 NHL Draft

Rimouski forward leads QMJHL in scoring while trying to 'focus on myself, my season'

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Alexis Lafreniere, projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, received some valuable advice from a recent No. 1 NHL Draft pick with experience in handling pressure.

Jack Hughes, the first player selected in the 2019 NHL Draft, by the New Jersey Devils, proved to be a helpful resource to the 18-year-old left wing from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when they met for the first time at the Bauer Hockey Combine in Exeter, New Hampshire, on July 18.

 

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"[Hughes] told me to focus on myself, my season, because I know there's got to be a lot of attention around it," Lafreniere said. "That was the first time I talked to him and he's a good guy, a really mature guy and [heck] of a player as well."

Hughes, who has two points (one goal, one assist) in eight games for the Devils this season, said the biggest thing is blocking any outside interference that could distract from having a productive season.

It seems to be working for Lafreniere (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), who leads the QMJHL with 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 14 games this season. He has 10 multipoint games, including five with at least four points. He had a season-high five points (one goal, four assists) in a 9-2 win against Quebec on Oct. 20.

"The biggest thing is staying in the moment and keeping your feet on the ground," Hughes said. "There's going to be a lot of talk when it comes to the draft. No matter how good you're playing there's going to be conversations about who's No. 1, so he's got to stay in the moment and let his play take care of everything.

"He's already proved so much, being named most valuable player of the Canadian Hockey League and scoring 100 points last season, so he's accomplished a lot of things. But it's really hard to kind of go into the season as the (projected) No. 1 pick and come out as the No. 1 pick, but I'm sure he's going to have a great year and be able to get it done."

Lafreniere won the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year award last season after he had 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 61 games and had one goal in five games for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"You just have to keep getting better every day," Lafreniere said. "It's a big year for sure but I want to just focus on myself and what I can do better."

Lafreniere isn't taking anything for granted. The 18-year-old said his offensive game has improved, including his shot, an area he considers the most underrated part of his arsenal.

"He can adjust his game to different types of players but one thing for sure ... if you're the center on his line, look left and give him the puck," Rimouski coach Serge Beausoleil said. "No one wants to put any more pressure on his shoulders. He needs to control the things he can control and make sure he's not worrying about the draft.

"He knows the only thing he can handle right now is how he performs on the ice day after day, game after game. It's easy to say but we'll have to help him along the way too."

Lafreniere and his linemates, Cedric Pare (34 points) and Calgary Flames prospect Dmitry Zavgorodniy (29 points) rank first, second and third, respectively, in scoring in the QMJHL. Only four times in the 50-year history of the league have the top three scorers played for the same team.

"Lafreniere has increased his speed a lot and I read somewhere that his speed was something of an issue for him at one point, but I don't believe that," Beausoleil said. "He has that second level that he can reach and he worked so hard this summer. He's not the same skater this year as he was last year ... he's better."

Lafreniere had two assists in two games on a line with Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks, 2019 NHL Draft, No. 3) and Joseph Veleno (Detroit Red Wings, 2018 NHL Draft, No. 30) for Canada at the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase in August. The WJSS is the first step in selecting the roster for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"He brings the qualities that players require to have success in the NHL today," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "The two outstanding ones for him are his quickness and his poise. Every part of the game he's composed, he's smart about it, but he's quick and he has speed so he can execute plays. He sees the ice, he reads the play. Everything he does is at a high tempo."

 

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