The Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL have already produced great players in Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier. A lot of people who are more in the know than I think we might be seeing the next one at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton this week in the form of Team Canada captain Alexis Lafreniere.
Included in that number, many of the 285 scouts registered at this tournament, seen as the kick-off point for assessing players who’ll be taken in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Lafreniere, 16, won’t be drafted until 2020, when he’ll likely be the consensus first overall pick, but there’s already quite a buzz about the uber-talented left winger from St. Eustache, Que.
Lafreniere, who tallied 42-38-80 in just 60 games with the Oceanic this season, picked up a couple of assists in Team Canada’s 10-0 romp over Team Switzerland to open the tournament on Monday. Drafted first overall in the 2017 QMJHL bantam draft, Lafreniere’s 42 goals are the most scored by a 16-year-old in the Q since Crosby sniped 54 in 2003-04. Fair or not, the inevitable comparisons follow.
“It’s nice, but I think Crosby’s on another level,” Lafreniere said this spring about the comparisons and hype surrounding him. “He’s already winning Cups and gold medals. I just try to do my stuff. That will be good.”
With a roster laden with players projected to go in the first round of the 2019 draft, it says something about Lafreniere that Team Canada named him captain. “You’re talking about an elite offensive player,” says Craig Button, who talks about Lafreniere’s quick hands and quick mind. You can listen to Button’s full assessment here.
As for Lafreniere, he’s well aware of the buzz that follows him, but, like most kids his age, he’s most comfortable letting his actions out on the ice do the talking for him. Jim Matheson of Post Media and I caught up with the Team Canada captain after the speed-bagging of Team Switzerland Monday.
“I’m just starting my career so I want to focus on myself. I’m me,” said Lafreniere when asked about following in the sizeable footsteps of Lecavalier and Crosby out of Rimouski. “It’s a long road until I get there (NHL) so I just want to focus on my game and try to be myself.”
With a roster that includes Lafreniere as well as top prospects for the 2019 Entry Draft like Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Peyton Krebs of the Kootenay Ice, Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades, Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants and Matthew Robertson of the Edmonton Oil Kings, there’s plenty of talent to see at Rogers Place this week. Stop by if you can, you’ll be glad you did.
DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?
No matter how long you’ve been around or how well-known you’d like to think you might be in hockey circles, it’s my experience that there’s always somebody who doesn’t have the first clue who you are, especially when it comes to issuing media credentials.
That’s how the handle Rubin Bronte was born – it was issued to me by the media relations crew of the Toronto Maple Leafs on my last trip into Maple Leaf Gardens before the team moved to the Air Canada Centre years ago. Instant keeper.
It happened again this week with the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament. I became Robin Brownless. No big thing and worth a laugh. That’s nothing, though, compared to Derek Van Diest of Post Media. He became Derek Van Diesel. Much hilarity ensued.