EDMONTON, Alberta — There will only be two, as opposed to three, former first-overall picks on the Rogers Place ice Thursday night, when the Rangers and Oilers square off in what is sure to be a fast-paced matchup.
Connor McDavid was seen grabbing at his hip or lower back in Edmonton’s overtime loss to the Jets on Saturday and is expected to be sidelined for one to two weeks, which means the league’s No. 1 pick in 2015 will not have a chance to posterize the Rangers again until at least their second meeting in late December at the Garden.
The Oilers will still have a top selection in their lineup, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (first overall in 2011), while the Rangers have 2020’s No. 1 pick, Alexis Lafreniere.
Now, there are no comparisons to be made here.
That’s a given.
The careers that McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins have carved out for themselves in Edmonton cannot be understated, while Lafreniere has barely made a mark in New York — albeit with much less time in the NHL to do so.
Though this could be the season that Lafreniere finally gets the kind of extended opportunities that most first-overall picks do.
The kind of roles that some people seem to believe are a birthright of top draft picks.
That’s because head coach Peter Laviolette seems to know that the Rangers need Lafreniere to fill not only a top-six role, but also serve as a secondary contributor on the power play, if the team is going to go the distance.
Lafreniere scored just the fourth power-play goal of his short NHL career in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Flames on Tuesday night in Calgary, getting a stick on an Erik Gustafsson shot from the top of the zone for his second tally in as many games.
To put it in perspective how little ice time Lafreniere has seen with the man-advantage: Since his first season in 2020-21, the Quebecois forward still trails one-time Rangers Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko and Andrew Copp in average power-play time per game at a mere 1:17.
Even players such as Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich, who are all no longer with the team after four-to-five-year tenures with the Rangers, still have higher average ice times with the man-advantage per game than Lafreniere.
Through the Rangers’ first six games, however, Lafreniere has logged the team’s eighth-highest power-play time at 7:18 (1:13 per game).
“Just practices, try to get as many reps as we can,” Lafreniere said of his power-play unit. “Try to move the puck quick and make plays for each other. It was good and it was good to get a goal, too.”
Lafreniere, whose three goals in six games are tied with Artemi Panarin for the second-most on the Rangers, has some jump to his game so far.
There’s a good chance that some of that has stemmed from consistently skating on the right wing of the second line alongside Panarin and Filip Chytil, which has been an offensively inclined unit that has found some early success.
Lafreniere is at his best when his emotion comes through in his play.
The last time he played with that kind of fury, and consistently, was the first-round playoff series against the Penguins in 2021-22.
The Post’s Up in the Blue Seats co-host Brian Boyle, who played for Pittsburgh in that series, said on this week’s episode that Lafreniere not only had an edge to him, but he “barked” at the Penguins’ bench through all seven games.
If Lafreniere can bottle that up, as well as garner some confidence on the second line and second power-play unit, the Rangers should reap the benefits.