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Getting to know: Alexis Lafrenière

QMJHL forward ranked first in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, looking forward to draft

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

By now, every hockey fan has heard the name Alexis Lafrenière.

The NHL Central Scouting Bureau released its final rankings last week and the Rimouski Océanic star forward was ranked first overall among North American skaters.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: The top-ranked North American skater is Alexis Lafreniere of @oceanicrimouski. The @QMJHL star brings a lot of accolades to the 2020 #NHLDraft. pic.twitter.com/Td9EHC6y1U

"Obviously, Alexis is quite the player when you look at every aspect of his game," said NHL Central Scouting's J-F Damphousse on a Zoom conference call last week. "I think you could consider every aspect as elite when you look at his skating, his puck skills. I think it's obviously above average and he's been excellent in his three years with Rimouski. One of his best assets in general is his vision, his playmaking skills. Every game I saw him play, he makes plays that we don't even think those plays are possible and he still makes them.

"I think what separates him from the pack is his compete level. He's willing to play physical, he battles every game and anytime the game is on the line you want him on the ice. He makes big plays and he responds under pressure."

Tweet from @PR_NHL: A lot of big names rank among the top 10 in North America. Full list available here: https://t.co/jfk0szoRpr #NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/09EFVbZZDp

Lafrenière led all Quebec Major Junior Hockey League skaters in assists and points. He had 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points in 52 games.

The 112 points earned Lafrenière the Jean Béliveau Trophy.

Lafrenière won several awards with his performance at the 2020 Ice Hockey World Junior Championship in Czech Republic as he helped Team Canada win the gold medal.

With 10 points (4-6-10) in five games, Lafrenière earned the Most Valuable Player award, the Best Forward award and All-Star honors.

Later on the Zoom conference call, Lafrenière and three of the other top prospects, center Quinton Byfield, defenseman Jamie Drysdale and forward Tim Stuetzle, spoke about a number of topics.

Lafrenière was asked what he would say if an NHL general manager asked why he should take him first overall.

"I think just the way I'm a leader and I always want to win when the game's on the line," Lafrenière said. "I think I can make a difference. I think that's a strong asset that I have and for sure there's some other really good players in the draft so it's really special to be No. 1 for sure."

Normally, Lafrenière and the rest of the top prospects would be in the middle of the playoffs for their respective teams.

But on March 23, the QMJHL, along with the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, announced the cancellation of the 2020 President Cup Playoffs, one week after canceling the remaining regular-season games.

So Lafrenière is now back home, waiting to see what happens and trying to stay in shape without the benefit of skating.

"It's a pretty weird situation that we're in right now but I think everyone is doing their best to stay fit," Lafrenière said. "Personally I train a little bit at home. It's not the same but I'll try to stay fit and spend time with my family that I don't really see often during the season, so try to spend as much time as I can with my family and try to train as hard as I can.

"I own nothing too fancy, just training at home. I have gym equipment here and can go for runs, shoot pucks and a little bit of rollerblades to skate a little bit. It's different but I think I can have everything to stay fit."

There is nothing that replaces skating or game action so Lafrenière knows that going to an NHL training camp, whenever that might be, will be even more challenging.

"For sure it's going to be a little bit different, not playing for a long time but I think if we train hard and we do whatever we can with what we have to stay fit and try to gain some strength, I think we're going to be ready," Lafrenière said. "It's going to be an adjustment for everybody but I think we're going to be fine."

There were a few interesting tidbits about Lafrenière that came up during the conference call.

First was the fact that hockey was not the only sport that captured Lafrenière's heart at an early age.

"Growing up, I was a pretty good baseball player," Lafrenière said. "I was probably as good as I was at hockey at the time. I had to stop to focus on only one sport. Yeah, baseball was pretty big in my life when I was growing up."

Lafrenière said he primarily played shortstop.

You also might be surprised by the player that Lafrenière grew up admiring. It was not one of the top French Canadian players.

"Growing up, I've always watched Patrick Kane," Lafrenière said. "Still watch him, he's my favorite player. What he can do on the ice under pressure and in big moments, I think he can be the difference maker. Just always watched him and still is my favorite player."

The last Rimouski player to be ranked No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final North American skaters list was center Sidney Crosby in 2005.

Lafrenière had a chance to meet Crosby when the Pittsburgh Penguins star returned to Rimouski as the Océanic retired his No. 87 jersey in late September.

Tweet from @NHL: What advice did Sidney Crosby give Alexis Lafreniere? #NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/ZN4v1wHnF6

"He just told us to enjoy the moment," Lafrenière said. "I think he told us his junior career in Rimouski was unbelievable, just to enjoy it because it was the best time of his life. To see how humble he is and a really good guy, it was really fun to be a part of his retirement for sure."

The Penguins took Crosby first overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

If Lafrenière goes first overall, he would become the first Quebec-born player chosen No. 1 since goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003 and the first skater from his province to be selected first since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998.

This year's draft was supposed to take place in Montreal on June 26-27 but on March 25, the league postponed the event.

The Red Wings had a keen interest in the draft lottery, which was supposed to take place on April 9 but was also postponed.

So they do not yet know whether they will have the opportunity to select Lafrenière first overall.

As for Lafrenière, he's still looking forward to that moment when he can celebrate hearing his name called in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

"For sure growing up it's a dream of every hockey player," Lafrenière said. "To see how close we are right now, it's pretty exciting and it's really fun.

"I think we're all excited for the draft and the team that's going to draft me, I'm going to be really happy to join them and try to have as much success as I can."

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