Alexis Lafreniere, projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, practiced Wednesday and will return to the lineup for Canada against Slovakia in the quarterfinals of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship on Thursday (9 a.m. ET; NHLN) after missing the past two games with a left knee injury.
"Huge boost. he's an elite player. he was having a good tournament to that point and to get him back in the lineup definitely gives us a boost and we're all hands on deck right now heading into the knockout round," Canada assistant Mitch Love said.
Lafreniere was injured in a collision early in the second period of a 6-0 loss to Russia on Saturday in a Group B preliminary round game. Canada (3-0-0-1, nine points) won its final two games without Lafreniere to earn the top seed in Group B and will play Slovakia, the fourth-place finisher in Group A, at Ostravar Arena in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The decision to put Lafreniere back in the lineup came after he showed no ill effects after returning to practice.
Emilie Castonguay, Lafreniere's agent, said Monday that Lafreniere would play only if there was no chance of aggravating the injury.
"There is a difference between walking and jumping on the ice for a World Junior Championship game," she said Monday. "We will assess the risks because it is obviously a big year for the rest of his career. Of course he is disappointed not to be able to play, but you also have to think long term and what is best for the rest of his career. Alexis dreams of playing in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup. "
Lafreniere, who has four points (one goal, three assists) in the tournament, had to be helped off the after skated into the Russia zone and attempted a shot on goal but fell awkwardly after colliding with goalie Amir Miftakhov at 1:36 of the second period.
The 18-year-old center has 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) and 29 power-play points (two goals, 27 assists) in 32 games in his third season with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had one goal in five games at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
"He's a great teammate. he talks to everyone and brings positive energy all the time and is a leader, a great person off the ice and lots of people look up to him," Canada forward Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres) said. "If we get him back, it'd be huge obviously. you saw what kind of player he is in the one [complete] game he played (one goal, three assists against the United States on Dec. 26). He's an unbelievable player and a game-changer, who every time is on the ice a threat to score, so it'd be huge to get him back."
LNH.com staff writer Guillaume Lepage contributed to this report