Why Detroit Red Wings’ Lucas Raymond has topped 2020 draftmate Alexis Lafreniere so far

Detroit Free Press

The first NHL game Lucas Raymond attended was at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was a cool experience, but not nearly as cool as the one that awaits at the historic venue Thursday.

The Detroit Red Wings take on the New York Rangers there in a match that pits two of the top picks in 2020 against one another. The Wings selected Raymond at No. 4, their spot following the draft lottery despite the worst record of the 2019-20 season. The Rangers went from the playoff bubble to getting the No. 1 overall pick, selecting consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

Lafreniere, in his second season, has 13 points in 46 games. Raymond leads the NHL rookie scoring race with 39 points in 50 games.

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“Every draft is different and that draft, and if you look through the first 20 or so picks, there’s a lot of really good players in that mix,” coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday. “The first four or five picks were all really good prospects. We were lucky it was that deep at the top of the draft, and to get a player of what I think his caliber is going to be in the long term was definitely a big thing at No. 4.”

Evoking memories of the consolation prize the Wings got in 1983 when they missed out on Pat LaFontaine and drafted Steve Yzerman, Raymond has been a fabulous addition. He grabbed a spot on the top line at training camp and has played a key role in the Wings (22-22-6) being in the hunt for a wild-card spot.

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“He doesn’t have a high panic level, so when he has the puck he’s not panicking as he feels the pressure,” Blashill said. “He’s just holding onto it. That’s aided by the fact he’s not at all afraid to take a hit, so if you’re not afraid to get hit, you’re not in a hurry to get rid of the puck. The guys that are a little afraid and don’t want to get hit tend to throw the puck away quicker.

“He’s a pretty cool customer under pressure that way. And then hockey sense — he knows how to create ice for himself, how to create space for himself, even by just taking two steps to the middle of the ice to get them off the wall a little bit, and then taking that ice back. He does a pretty good job of that for a guy who’s not a physical specimen from a skating or size standpoint.”

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With 13 goals and 26 assists, Raymond is averaging 0.78 points per game, half a point higher than Lafreniere (0.28). Despite spending last season in the Swedish Hockey League, Raymond has the second most career points in his draft class, behind No. 3 pick Tim Stützle’s 53 points in 98 games with Ottawa. (Lafreniere ranks third, with 34 points in 201 games.)

It made sense for Raymond to stay in Sweden last season because the SHL was up and running months before the NHL. It allowed Raymond, 19, to get stronger physically and mentally, and he came to camp poised to make the team.

“Playing another year in Sweden was huge for me,” Raymond said. “I felt ready when I got here.”

Raymond has reinforced everything Yzerman said when he chose Raymond: “We think he’s a very intelligent, very highly skilled player, very competitive. We think he fits in with the type of team we want to build.”

The 2020 draft took place virtually because of the pandemic, meaning Raymond was at home in his native Sweden when the first round happened. With the six-hour time zone difference, it made a memorable day a long one.

“It was an amazing night to go through that with my family and friends,” Raymond said. “I went to bed at like 5 or something. Not just the draft, but everything that followed, the interviews. It was hard to fall asleep. It was a fun night, something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Playing at MSG will bring Raymond full circle from his first trip to New York.

“My first NHL game I watched when I was really young was at Madison Square Garden,” Raymond said. “The Rangers played the Devils, I think. I was 13 maybe. My first time in the city, too. I’m looking forward to the game.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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