Rangers’ baffling power-play trend making Alexis Lafreniere an anomaly

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Funny that David Quinn should mention it.

Because when the coach was asked on his Zoom call Tuesday morning how he could get Alexis Lafreniere’s ice time from the 9:00-to-12:00 range to the 14:00-to-16:00 neighborhood, he referenced the power play.

“Getting him on the power play will definitely increase his minutes. I think that’s a big piece of it,” Quinn said hours before the Blueshirts’ match at the Garden against the Penguins. “I think everybody just looks at the total minutes, and if he’s playing 12 minutes at five-on-five, that’s pretty good.

“But the guys who play the high minutes are usually the guys who are killing penalties or on the power play and right now, he’s not on either. That doesn’t mean that can’t change. As a matter of fact he and I had a conversation about that [Monday], about the direction of a game and where it’s going and you want to reward him if he continues to play well.

“So I anticipate that if he continues to play the way he has, he’ll get rewarded and those minutes will go up in a different area.”

The thing, though, is that it has gone in the completely opposite direction the last three weeks. Maybe it is because the Rangers have worked their way onto the edges of the playoff hunt by going 7-3-2 in their last 12 while the fourth-place Bruins have won five of their last 11 (5-5-1) and only nine of 22 games (9-9-4) since opening 10-1-2.

Maybe there is sudden internal pressure to narrow the focus to this season’s remaining 19 games — including Tuesday’s match — while putting off the future to the future. Maybe this is coming from the hierarchy.  

But the fact is that over the last 10 games starting with the 9-0 ravaging of the Flyers on March 17 that represented acting coach Kris Knoblauch’s first game behind the bench, Lafreniere has played a total of 3:35 on the power play. To repeat: over the last 10 games, the 19-year-old winger has gotten an average of 21.5 seconds a game with the man-advantage. He has not set foot on the ice during a power play in seven of those contests.

The entitled first unit stays on for however long it likes, but that’s not even half of it. For Lafreniere is no longer on the second unit, whose latest configuration features Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko and Colin Blackwell up front with defensemen K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba at the back.

The deployment of the 21-year-old Miller is commendable, but because Quinn (and/or assistant coach David Oliver, whose area of responsibility is the power play) presumably doesn’t trust the rookie to be the only defenseman out there, Trouba also gets the call. That leaves room for three forwards.

Hence, there is not only no room for Lafreniere under this alignment, there is none as well for Filip Chytil, who has played a sum of 19 seconds with the man-advantage over the last five games. So it is Blackwell and Trouba (or Miller) ahead of Lafreniere and Chytil.

The use of Miller on the point is interesting in the larger context, as well, because unless this staff is married to the two-defensemen alignment on the second unit going forward, Miller’s spot will be usurped by Nils Lundkvist next season if the Blueshirts can finally get the 20-year-old Swede under contract.

But back to the subject of our story, which is Lafreniere and the power play. I say that Quinn’s reference to the topic was funny because coincidentally I had spent part of the morning researching power-play time for first-overall draft picks in advance of the Zoom call, and guess what?

Lafreniere’s power-play ice time of 1:35 per game — which ranks him ninth among rookies — is the least amount awarded to any first-overall selection in 22 seasons, since Joe Thornton got an average of 50 seconds per game playing for the Bruins in 1997-98 in a time when teenagers were scarce and their ice time was scarcer.

Nail Yakupov got more power-play time as a rookie, so did Nico Hischier, so did Patrik Stefan, so did Aaron Ekblad, so did Rasmus Dahlin. So did everybody else who came after Thornton. Some of them were even on teams that were rebuilding.  

Everybody, that is, until Lafreniere.

Maybe this isn’t a laughing matter.  

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