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Debate Over Rangers Decision Not to Release Lafreniere For World Juniors

The New York Rangers have elected not to release Alexis Lafreniere for the World Junior Championships. Was that the right call?

It’s understandable, but it’s also unfortunate. The NHL’s most recent No. 1 overall draft pick will not be joining Team Canada at the World Junior Tournament as the New York Rangers organization has elected not to release him to play. Instead, they’ll keep Lafrieniere fresh and hopefully uninjured by avoiding any unnecessary physicality.

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The World Junior Championship lost a couple of big names as both Lafreniere and Jack Hughes will be held back by their respective teams. Considering the tournament is running around the same time as the NHL may be, it’s not surprising. Specifically to Lafreniere, because the Rangers are hoping he’ll play a big part in their offense when the season does get going, it’s especially not a shock.

There is uncertainty around the 2020-21 season as labor disputes, a pandemic and other factors push back the start of the campaign. That doesn’t change the fact that the season won’t be pushed back so far that an injury at the WJC tournament would be potentially disastrous for a club like the Rangers.

The 2020 WJC is set to begin on Christmas Day. Recent talks between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have pushed back the NHL season start date to mid-January at the earliest. At worst, a February start date seems likely. So, as teams decide whether or not to loan their best young prospects out, that some are and some are not is to be expected.

Related: NHL Pushes Back Season Start Date, Looking at 56-Game Schedule

Lafreniere Is Out

Hockey Canada announced Thursday it was informed by the New York Rangers that left winger Lafreniere would not be joining Team Canada. They noted in a statement from Scott Salmond, senior vice-president of national teams:

“After ongoing discussions with the New York Rangers, Hockey Canada has been informed that Alexis Lafreniere will not be released to represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton. Although we are disappointed Alexis will not be able to join our team for (the) World Juniors, we understand and respect the decision made by the Rangers.”

Darren Dreger of TSN has added that the Rangers prefer Lafreniere “continue to train locally and prepare for his first NHL training camp.”

Is This The Best Decision by the Rangers?

While arguments against sending an important player who could get injured have merit, there is an argument against holding him back. Lafreniere hasn’t played an organized hockey game since March 8, 2020. That’s a long time to be sitting and then expected to make an impact when the NHL finally gets going.

Meanwhile, other draft selections and young prospects like Dylan Cozens, Bowen Byram, Kirby Dach, and Quinton Byfield will come into NHL camps or the season having skated and competed. Their skills will be sharp and they’ll hit the ice ready to go.

The idea for a lot of teams is to give their young guys chances to play against top-level competition. Lafreniere and Hughes won’t get that. Maybe it won’t matter.

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