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Let's Trade Alexis Lafreniere

Sara Schmidle. Getty Images.

The Rangers are rolling. After snapping Carolina's 17-game point streak last night with a comeback win at MSG, the Blueshirts are one of only three squads raking in over 80% of their possible standings points over the last month (10-2-1). Their inexplicably bad puck luck has turned, resulting in top-five scoring numbers while Shesterkin has simultaneously reclaimed his spot among the league's elite. All top guns are firing & it's looking like a couple of youngsters (Chytil & Kakko) are finally ready to graduate from the kid's table. About the only "negative" during this span was the recent scratch of the 2020 #1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. Gallant wasn't happy with his overall play and wanted to send a message, which is understandable - but choosing to sit him instead of a demotion sent Laf's name into the hockey media whirlwind where, naturally, some trade speculation began.

The reality of the Rangers trading their 21 year-old prize is borderline non-existent. No, he hasn't taken the league by storm as many expect from a first-overall selection but in fairness no one really has right off the bat since Matthews in 2016. He stepped into the league during Covid chaos and onto a bubble playoff roster where premium minutes & powerplay time weren't nearly as available as they are on most squads drafting first. Still, over his first two seasons he lit the lamp as well as you could expect at 5x5. Among all players with at least 1500 minutes Lafreniere scored at a top-30 per-60 pace. He introduced some physicality in last year's postseason run and bigger things were expected for 2022-23. Instead, it's been a rather disappointing first half. Besides the coach being unhappy with his overall effort he's in a season-long funk with a mere 5 goals in 38 contests. The chances have been there and he's gotten top-six opportunity at times but he's simply not finishing.

That's nowhere near reason enough to be shopping him. However…what if, hypothetically, they were? 

Giphy Images.

Setting the return aside for a second there is at least some sensibility to the thought. Many believe that part of Lafreniere's slow development is a lack of consistent, prime playing time. That may be true, but another truth is that's not likely to change any time in the near future with Panarin & Kreider cemented into the lineup. As a matter of fact, left wing could get even more cluttered once Brennan Othmann is ready to step onto the big stage as soon as next season. Panarin & Kreider have no-moves and, with Othmann's ELC not kicking in for another year, it's highly unlikely he's the odd man out as the salary cap will be an enemy real soon. Besides Lafreniere, Chytil and K'Andre are due new deals this summer followed by Kakko and Lindgren the next. All except Laf have been driving up their values and taking bigger chunks out of any league-wide cap increases that might come over the next couple years. Eliminating Lafreniere might make it easier to construct a more consistent lineup while opening up a little more money for key pieces that are gonna command it.

Now as far as the return, it'd have to be ideal. Swapping one kid who's yet to meet expectations for another doesn't make sense and no front office is ponying up a more proven young player for one the jury's still out on. There's no reason to include him in any potential trade for a Kane rental because, if Showtime is coming to Broadway it'll be because he told the Hawks that's where he wants to go. Teams in that situation don't have the leverage to pull off anything other than a first and a decent prospect (see Claude Giroux). Lafreniere for any rental though is a non-starter so Bo Horvat would be out as well. There's no question the Rangers would win any bidding war for the Canucks captain by including Laf, but without the space to re-sign him long-term it's a terribly shortsighted option. There's one popular trade candidate though that could fit the bill and his name is Jakob Chychrun.

Chychrun's been wanting out of Arizona forever and the Yotes are willing to honor it - but it won't be cheap. The 6'2 220-pound 24 year-old is a greyhound on the ice who's just now entering his prime & is under contract for another two years at a mere $4.6M/per. Armed with fleet feet and a bomb of a shot it's no wonder the public ask is a couple of first-rounders and a top prospect, especially since Chychrun's been lights-out the first 20 games of his season after recovering from ankle & wrist issues that delayed his start. Only three defenders have outscored him over that span. It's clear he's perfectly healthy & at the top of his game which leaves little reason for the Coyotes to back down from their return demands but I would think a 2023 first (which the Rangers have a pair of), Lafreniere and a sweetener would absolutely get AZ to send over Chychrun at 50% retained. They're nowhere close to the cap ceiling and I can't imagine eating $2.3M for 2 seasons would be reason enough for them to pass on adding Lafreniere to their growing stable of young talent.

As for Chychrun's fit in NY, it's practically perfect. It's been musical chairs trying to fill that last spot on their left side. First Jones, then Hajek, now Harpur - and while Harpur hasn't been a catastrophe, he doesn't inspire confidence for a squad with Cup aspirations. Throw Chychrun into that mix and…wow. Gallant could juggle pairs however he needs to. He could simply slot him with Schneider and give them another pair with a dynamic similar to Fox/Lindgren. He'd have the option to throw Fox/Chychrun together for late-game offense & 6-on-5 situations. He could try Chychrun with Trouba and pair Miller/Schneider for a top-notch young shutdown duo. The options are endless. Plus, letting Chychrun QB PP2 would surely give that unit a boost they desperately need. The best part is they could run this same defensive corps for another two years of their prime Cup window. That's about as solid as it gets. In terms of this season, adding Chychrun at 50% wouldn't hamper their financial ability to bring in Kane at the deadline. AND if for some unforeseen reason they wanna move him down the road, they can recoup a lot of what they gave up to get him in the first place. Like I said, the fit is practically perfect.

Anyway, this is all hypothetical fun. I don't realistically see the Rangers looking to cut ties with Lafreniere halfway through his second "real" NHL season. Sure it's been a lackluster first half but it's far from the first time a kid has gone through some growing pains early on. There's nothing to prove Laffy is anything other than a coachable team-first youngster who's loved in the locker room. There's no questioning the talent. It'll click for him and when it does it'll be in a Rangers sweater. But if the improbable happens and a deal comes to fruition, it couldn't get much better than Jakob Chychrun.