We are on the verge of 2024. The NHL players acquired by a team in the 2020 auction are barely 20 to 21 years old. The Lafrenière, Byfield, Stützle, Raymond, Sanderson, Drysdale, Rossi and the others will celebrate the 4th anniversary of the agreement of their names at the big ball of drafted but not yet elected hockey players next June. In other words, it is still very, very early… However, we can already agree on an impressive vintage, there are no major doubts on this point.
In fact, there was a lot of doubt among supporters and some observers of two organizations: the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings. Jeff Gorton’s Blue Shirts had made Alexis Lafrenière the first-ever pick of the 2020 auction in the midst of the pandemic, while the Kings followed suit with Quinton Byfield.
In New York, the future is now. Lafrenière therefore graduated straight away and never played a single game in the American League. Byfield played there 59 times spread over three seasons, including last year. Rob Blake, a man who isn’t nervous, took his time with his second overall pick of 2020. Result: Byfield has 21 points, including 8 goals, in 23 games this season. Lafrenière isn’t too far behind and is off to his best start in four years with 16 points, including eight goals, in 24 games.
Two different paths, two different philosophies and an ultimately successful result in the fourth professional season of the first two candidates in 2020.
Byfield is playing on Kopitar’s wing in LA for the occasion, and Blake knows he’s in the middle of learning to be the Kings’ starting center when Anze hangs up. This model of Blake’s development and integration should earn him a lifetime job in Los Angeles! Lafrenière has a direct hit. He has some talent and some talent. That will enable him to succeed. However, the Rangers cannot boast that they knowingly developed it. Lafreniere and Byfield will face off at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, which I believe will be the start of the next Stanley Cup Final.
I know there’s still a lot of hockey left, but if no one takes a break from these two clubs, Gary Bettman can boast an absolutely gigantic grand finale with his two biggest markets taking center stage. And a shame for Canada!
Speaking of Canada: Let’s talk about the Canadian. Juraj Slafkovsky is at the center of many discussions and often against his will, especially when it comes to Byfield. To be honest, I don’t understand the comparisons between the two players at all. Byfield is a natural center and that’s exactly where he’ll end up in Los Angeles. He bounced between the show and the minors for three years, while Slafkovsky hasn’t left Montreal since being selected by the CH in 2022.
They are two guys with impressive physiques, but when it comes to the quality of the hands and the smoothness on the skates, in my opinion there is honestly no comparison. I think it is a mistake to dilute the debate by hiding behind the patience shown towards Byfield and believing that Slafkovsky will become his equal over time… Slafkovsky will be Slafkovsky and will not be Byfield, just as Logan will not be Cooley or any of them these young people who have hands and creativity to spare…
The Comparison: If you want one for Slafkovsky, but I know he doesn’t make you happy, you’re better off comparing him to Lafrenière: natural winger, big man, powerful on his skates, good at protecting the puck and capable of attacking to generate .
We’re looking at two very similar prospects, two players who were first overall picks two years apart and two guys who have stayed with the big club since making their debut. If Slafkovsky comes out of his shell and becomes a Tage Thompson, the Canadian will have suffered a major blow. If he becomes a Lafrenière like we’re seeing this season, the Canadian will have a good hockey player in his top six. Will the Canadian have drafted the best prospect for the 2022 class? Have the Rangers selected the best prospect for the 2020 class?
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