Alex Laferriere breaking through the college wall, hitting his stride at the right time for the Kings

It’s been a while since Alex Laferriere has played this many hockey games.

Laferriere spent the last two seasons at Harvard University, which plays an even more condensed schedule than the already condensed NCAA calendar. His collegiate career followed two seasons in the USHL that were shortened, seeing him fall just under 50 games played.

Fast forward to the present and Laferriere has played in 67 of 68 possible regular-season games thus far with the LA Kings. Pretty robust schedule for a rookie forward. Around the NHL, only 12 rookies have exceeded 60 games played to this point and just eight have played in 65 or more. Of the players with more games played this season than Laferriere, only Arizona’s Logan Cooley had zero NHL games entering this season. For Laferriere, he had just four games of professional experience to his name, coming with the Ontario Reign at the end of last season.

“It’s definitely a lot of games, I think this year I’m about to play the same that I played my whole college career,” Laferriere admitted. “It’s definitely pretty long……but we have such an incredible staff here that helps you out with that. I think the older guys have done a really good job of communicating to me about things I should do away from the rink to keep my body in the best shape.”

Often times at this point in the season, we’re using the phrase “college wall” to describe individuals in Laferriere’s position. Even at the AHL level, you see it regularly. When players hit that 40-game mark, and there’s still 30+ games remaining, how does the body handle a situation it’s never been in before, playing at the highest level it’s ever played at?

With Laferriere, not only are we not talking about that, but we’re arguably talking about a player who is getting better with time and he’s doing it at the highest of levels.

During the month of March, no player on the Kings has more scoring chances at 5-on-5 than Laferriere’s 26 and he trails only forward Phillip Danault in high-danger chances. When you break things down onto a per/60 basis, Laferriere has been one of the team’s most productive players at 5-on-5 in March.

Entering last night’s game Laferriere actually led the Kings this month in 5-on-5 scoring among players to appear in evert game, with only Adrian Kempe’s numbers over six games ranking higher. Multi-point nights from Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar moved them past Laferriere, but hey, third aint bad. Looking at goals per/60, Laferriere once again only trails Danault and Kopitar, who have both months themselves. Regardless, Laferriere has been an impactful player, specifically in 5-on-5 situations, at a time of the year when you might expect him to fade.

That’s merited heavier involvement in the eyes of his head coach.

“You don’t want to be relying on a first-year player this time of the season, but credit to him, he’s making us use him more than some other guys,” Hiller said of Laferriere. “He’s a good player, he’s honest, he works, he skates, he’s hard on pucks, all the things that I tell you coaches like, but he’s also got an offensive touch. We’ve seen that, he’s scored his tenth goal. He’s just got a bright future for him and we really like what he brings.”

In hearing something like that from Hiller, it empowers a player like Laferriere to continue to play his game.

Hard not to, right?

Words of encouragement like that ring pretty loudly for a young player. Laferriere is a guy who entered this season not necessarily knowing that he’d play any games in the NHL. He was an impact player, though, from rookie camp on and performed his way onto the roster. Now, in a playoff push, he’s cemented his place in the lineup on an everyday basis when others haven’t. He’s become trusted in situations not everyone is trusted in. He’s playing with a level of confidence you might expect from a veteran, rather than a rookie.

“Anytime Jimmy talks highly of me it gives me a lot of confidence,” Laferriere said. “I like to be trusted out there and I think he does trust me on the ice and kind of in any situation, so I’m just trying to build that.”

Laferriere’s play hasn’t just made an impact on Hiller, but on his teammates as well.

He’s played regularly alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois on a line this season but has bumped around the lineup as bit, taking shifts and stretches with Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault when situations have called for it. In Dallas last weekend, with the Kings facing a heavy deficit, Laferriere played the third period on Danault’s line, with the veteran pointing to Laferriere wanting to be a “difference maker” when he takes the ice, praising his hunger, especially when pursuing the puck.

The player who knows him best, however, is Dubois, who has been his centerman for the bulk of the season. He says there’s two sides to Laferriere. The young player you know off the ice and the player on it, who looks mature beyond his years.

“Laf on the ice and off the ice, two different people,” Dubois said. “On the ice he’s mature – off the ice too – but he’s mature on the ice. He plays the game the right way. He makes plays when they’re there, he chips it in when it’s there, he hits, he defends well. Laf off the ice is still a kid that’s enjoying his time the NHL in his first season. It’s fun to be with him and see him evolve as the year goes on. I’m sure there’s a lot more of him ahead.”

In Dubois, Laferriere has found not only a long-time linemate but also a mentor to help him navigate the intensive nature of a first NHL season.

When Laferriere speaks about everyone who has helped him, he means it. Lots of players, coaches and staff members who have been there to lend a hand. It’s been Dubois, though, who has really taken Laferriere under his wing to help

“I think all the guys in there are pretty welcoming and you can go up to any of them, but I think PL has been that guy for me,” Laferriere said. “We’ve played together pretty much the whole year, so just talking on the bench or just in the locker room. sitting next to each other. Just little conversations, but he’s definitely been the guy who has helped me out.”

Laferriere also spoke about how having a consistent linemate in Dubois has helped him along throughout the season.

Though he’s shown the versatility to move around the lineup, and he’s seen his minutes increase when the Kings have played with 11 forwards and seven defenseman as a result, his constant has been Dubois in the middle, something that has helped him to continue to develop into the player we’re seeing.

With the Kings sitting in a playoff spot, and their eyes set on hitting the postseason on a high note, they’ll need Laferriere to not only maintain his level, but find another. It’s something he’s done throughout the season.

Any time there’s been a dip in his play, he’s not only bounced back to get back to his level, but he’s grown from it and found a new one.

“We’ve seen a few times where he’s gone and dipped just a little bit, but to his credit, he’s been able to not get deep, he’s dipped, but he’s got himself right back up again and he seems to have taken a step each time he’s come back up,” Hiller added. “We didn’t count on him having the season he’s had, but he’s been a really good addition for us and he looks like a really good King going forward.”

Sounds like the kind of guy the organization is excited about keeping around for the long haul.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

No practice today for the Kings, as they take a recovery day off the back-to-back wins. Practice tomorrow in El Segundo before a Saturday showdown with Tampa Bay, one of the team’s stronger teams in the new year. A big opportunity to sweep a three-game homestand, with an opponent that’s had the Kings’ number in recent years coming into Los Angeles. Exciting way to end the week!

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