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Slappers and Bangers: Fantasy Analysis of Alexis Lafreniere and Juraj Slafkovsky

This week, we’ll delve into two former number-one overall draft picks and provide an under-the-hood fantasy hockey analysis of what we can expect moving forward.

Alexis Lafreniere and Juraj Slafklovksy were drafted with huge hype and expectations. Their rookie seasons were different versions of significant disappointment. It appears they have begun to turn things around in 2023-24.

Let’s take a closer look.

Fantasy Hockey Analysis of Alexis Lafreniere, LW/RW, New York Rangers

Taken first overall by the Rangers in the 2020 NHL entry draft, Lafreniere arrived at his first training camp surrounded by expectations and hype.

His first NHL season was the 56-game, COVID-shortened season, and it wasn’t reassuring compared to the lofty expectations. His 12 goals and nine assists were a far cry from the preseason Calder hype.

It hasn’t been a smooth road for Lafreniere. The adjustment to the pro-game hasn’t met those expectations. In his first three seasons, his point-per-game has been slow but steady with a .38, .38, and .48. Few saw a prospect with his talent producing below half a point per game after three seasons.

In those three seasons, he was given multiple looks in the Rangers top-six, he just never stuck. Barring injury, his opportunities on the first power-play unit have been non-existent.

Enter, 2023-24. Lafreniere has set career highs across the board. With 56 points in 80 games, his point-per-game has jumped to .7. His shots on goal jumped from 1.67 per game (135) to 2.65 (212). Lafreniere sits with 27 goals, his first 20, or 25-goal season.

His ice time has increased significantly, from 15:13 to 17:17 per game, yet he remains buried on the second power-play unit, receiving almost identical time on the power-play as his rookie season (1:17 vs. 1:16).

Where does Lafreniere go from here? The simple answer is, up.

Let’s consider for one moment, in Nathan MacKinnon’s first four seasons, he never produced more than 63 points, and that was his rookie season.

To be clear, I’m not comparing Lafreniere’s upside to MacKinnon’s. I am simply illustrating a point – player development is not linear. If it was, fantasy hockey would lose all of its luster and lure.

Lafreniere sits with eight power-play points. With everything else equal, a bump to the Rangers’ first unit could easily result in a 15-20 point increase.

Occasionally, we see production replace truculence. Lafreniere is no different. His hit totals have halved this year. He should remain a hit-per-game presence, but time will tell if he bolsters his game back to the 120-plus hit range.

This year was Lafreniere’s coming out party. The short-term problem remains the first power-play unit. The four forwards manning the power play, Vincent Trocheck, Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider are all under contract for the next three to six years.

Sooner than later, Lafreniere will bully his way onto the first unit. Until he does he faces a glass ceiling on his production. His point totals are bolstered by a strong fourth quarter, 17 points in 18 games. There’s every chance Lafreniere takes another big step next year and pushes past 70 points.

Until he takes a spot on the first power-play unit though, his true ceiling won’t be revealed.

Lafreniere is a very strong buy this summer and into next season and a must-hold. Do not sell. If you’ve owned him for four years like I have, you’ve waited too long to sell right at the cusp of him revealing his true potential.

Fantasy Hockey Analysis of Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens shocked many when they drafted Slafkovsky first overall. Almost every year you hear of the team with the first overall pick debating ‘going off the board’ and taking the second or third-ranked player. Very rarely do we see anyone follow through.

Like Lafreniere, it was far from the rookie season Slafkovsky, the Canadiens, or their fans expected. By the end of November 2022, there were news stories written that he was a bust.

Fantasy tip: Be more patient than the sports media. Read click-bait stories with a grain of salt. Don’t buy into ‘bust’ labels when a prospect has played less than 100 NHL games.

Sure, Slafkovsky was benched, healthy scratched from games, and played under 10 minutes in several games as a rookie. His stats weren’t good either with just 10 points in 39 games. He also fired just 42 shots on net in those 39 games.

The only word that comes to mind for his rookie season is yuck.

Turn the page to 2023-24 and it didn’t look a whole lot better to start. Over his first 43 games, he only produced 16 points. Barely an improvement over his first 39 NHL games.

But enter the third quarter of season two. A switch flipped and Slafkovsky began a rapid improvement in his game. With 32 points, 86 shots, and 11 power-play points over his last 36 games, Slafkovsky is showing why Montreal drafted him first overall.

Players talk about the game slowing down around them. This is happening for Slafkovksky. His vision, shooting, and positioning have improved exponentially within this season.

With just 116 games under his belt, Slafkovsky remains a full NHL season from his breakout threshold. Consider, he’s 6’3″, 230lbs and theoretically, his true breakout threshold sits at 400 games.

The hype is high on Slafkovsky right now. He did just score his first NHL hat trick after all. This is a horrible time to try and buy. What you hope for is an ugly start to the season and swoop in with the hopes his owner is fickle and short-sighted.

Like Lafreniere, you should not consider trading him. He’s a must-have.

There’s no tried or tested way to predict what Slafkovsky will produce next year. He could take another big step forward and push 60 points. He could stagnate and sit around 50 points. Or he could take a step back and muddle around 40 points.

You have to take your lumps. The upside is simply too large.

His size provides Slafkovsky with the potential to become a dominant power forward. His 139 hits and 55 penalty minutes along with 147 shots provide a tantalizing multi-cat package.

Unlike Lafreniere, there’s no established group of high-salary veterans signed long-term blocking valuable ice time. For Slafkovsky, it is all there for the taking. He just has to step into the role and skate with it.

It will take a couple of years for him to fully grow into his potential, but you’re looking at a budding superstar. Dare I go out on a limb and suggest he has the potential to produce like Miko Rantanen or Leon Draisaitl? I’ll stop just short, but in four years, who knows?

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading.

Follow me on X: @doylelb4

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