When it comes to the concept of expectations, the higher they are the more difficult it is to reach them.
Apparently nobody told that to Alexis Lafreniere.
One of the most talked-about prospects in hockey, there was a lot of hype surrounding the dynamic forward heading into the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. With throngs of NHL scouts in attendance and thousands of fans watching on television, Team Canada’s captain didn’t just meet the lofty expectations set upon him; he exceeded them.
The Saint-Eustache, PQ native and member of the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was stellar all tournament, starting when he picked up two assists in Canada’s opening 10-0 drubbing of Switzerland. He saved his very best for last too, scoring two goals and an assist in a 6-2 win over Sweden that clinched the gold medal.
Sweden had stunned the Edmonton crowd by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the early stages of that game, but Canada answered with three goals of their own before the first period concluded. The third goal, Lafreniere’s, pushed the jubilation of his teammates and the home fans into overdrive. Sweden never recovered after that.
“He’s a goal-scorer,” Canada’s head coach Andre Tourigny said after the game. “The puck was bouncing off sticks and pads and kept coming back on his stick two or three times, and he scored a hell of a goal. It was a key moment as well. It was 2-2 at the time. Not only does he score, but it’s a big goal.”
Playing on Canada’s top line with fellow elite prospects Kirby Dach and Peyton Krebs, Lafreniere finished the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with five goals and 11 points in five games, putting him in a tie with Russian winger Vasily Podkolzin for most in the tournament. As dazzling as Podkolzin was at times, Lafreniere was the best player at the event.
“He lived up to his billing as a scorer, but he also did a really great job away from the puck as both a setup man and a decoy that the defense had to respect,” Future Considerations scout Keith Fries said.
Unluckily for the NHL (and for QMJHL teams when they have to face off against Rimouski), Lafreniere is a late 2001 birthday, meaning that he is ineligible for the 2019 entry draft in Vancouver and won’t be able to play in the NHL until the fall of 2020 at the very earliest. Until then, the hockey world will just have to settle with watching Lafreniere showcase his abilities in the QMJHL and at international events (which might even include this year’s World Juniors).
If you thought the Lafreniere hype was high now, you haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t be surprised if he lives up to it every step of the way.