When your name is in the running for the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, it doesn’t hurt to have a bullet point on your resume that only Sidney Crosby shares in hockey history. Forward Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic is projected to be the top pick in the 2020 draft almost unanimously. Any doubt that he may not take that title was likely put to rest on Wednesday when the CHL announced that Lafreniere had been named the 2019-20 CHL Player of the Year. As if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, this is actually the second straight campaign in which Lafreniere has received the award. He was named the CHL’s best player in 2018-19 as well. The only other player honored in consecutive seasons: Pittsburgh Penguins captain and one of the game’s all-time best, Sidney Crosby.
Lafreniere, 18, recorded an eye-popping 112 points in just 52 games this season with Rimouski. His 2.15 per-game scoring rate was the CHL’s best since another NHL mega star, Connor McDavid, was playing juniors. It also marks a sharp increase from Lafreniere’s 2018-19 production of 105 points in 61 games, which was still good enough to take home the CHL’s Player of the Year honors last season. Altogether, Lafreniere registered 72 goals and 217 points in 113 games across his two MVP campaigns and nearly 300 points total in his three junior seasons combined. As a result, there is approximately a 0% chance that he will ever play in the juniors again.
Instead, the presumptive top pick will simply sit and wait to see where his first pro destination will be. The NHL answer could arrive as early as later this month, as the NHL Draft Lottery is scheduled for Friday, June 26th. However, if the nearby Ottawa Senators or the historically bad Detroit Red Wings or one of the other non-playoff teams does not win the first to select first overall, Lafreniere will have to wait even longer. A second lottery later this summer would determine which playoff team eliminated in the knockout round of the NHL’s adapted playoff format would have the first pick. On top of that, there is still some concern that with a possible delayed start to the 2020-21 NHL season that Lafreniere’s pro career may actually begin in Europe. The young star has entertained the thought of getting his first pro season started on time, even if that isn’t with his NHL club. He would of course be expected to return to North America once the new season does begin.
Regardless of where Lafreniere ends up, any team that has him in their lineup will receive a major boost. Lafreniere has shown for several years now that he is a special prospect and his second straight CHL Player of the Year Award puts him in elite company. Is it too early to proclaim him the next Crosby? Of course. That won’t stop the winners of this year’s draft lottery from keeping their hopes up though.