I love him very much – Galant about Lafreniere

“I love him very much” – Galant about Lafrenière

New York Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant defended the development of forwards Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko, saying he’s seen an improvement this season.

• Also read: Rangers: Alexis Lafrenière back in his usual place

• Also read: New York Rangers’ K’Andre Miller now rises to the rank of the NHL’s dominant defenseman

“I’m doing everything I can to support them as best I can and it’s working. I think they’re still working and growing, even if the media doesn’t always see it, Gallant said during a news conference on Wednesday. That frustrates me because I like these young people.

Lafrenière, who was the first pick in the 2020 draft, has 21 points, including six goals in 46 games so far this season. Gallant’s claims about him came two days after a strong performance from the Quebecer, who had a goal and an assist in Monday’s 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

“He played well in our last games. He probably played one of his best games against Florida. I have no problem with this youngster and I like him a lot.”

For his part, Kaapo Kakko was the second overall winner of the 2019 auction. He has nine hits and 13 assists for 22 points in 47 games in 2022-2023.

When asked if the two youngsters’ performance could be hampered by the team’s more focus on winning the Stanley Cup than development, Gallant said he’s doing what he can.

“How many times have I said I wish they had gotten more minutes? It’s normal for these two players not to get much game time in the first session of the power play. I try to win games. You will always have opportunities to prove yourself. I’m trying to put them in a good mood, but I won’t bench Chris Kreider or Mika Zibanejad.