(WXYZ) — Alexis Lafreniere is the top prospect for the NHL Draft. Because the coronavirus pandemic delayed the lottery and draft, he's held that heralded status perhaps longer than any recent top pick.
That all being said, the 18-year-old Canadian forward already made his first home a year ago.
Lafreniere signed with Upper Deck in 2019, becoming the company's youngest ever spokesperson.
"For us to identify him as this generational type of talent shows our respect for his game, our hope for his future, and what our team believes to be the number one draft pick by far," Chris Carlin, Senior Manager of Customer Experience at Upper Deck told WXYZ.
"We work with Tiger Woods, we work with Michael Jordan, we work with LeBron James, Connor McDavid, Wayne Gretzky," he said. "You don't see a company like Upper Deck do this very often."
Carlin said the Upper Deck team looks at talent three to four years out, and sometimes longer than that. Lafreniere was on their radar for years, and while every industry is hit by the pandemic, UD is a step ahead because of its deal with the standout forward.
Lafreniere is already featured in some of Upper Deck's Canadian hockey sets featuring national team players, and his signed pieces are on Upper Deck Authenticated in collectibles.
The New York Rangers won the draft lottery after a controversial process that left the first draw without a winner. The NHL announced the winner of the lottery would be a team from its Stanley Cup qualifier.
"It gave so many different fans in so many different markets an opportunity to cheer and hope," Carlin said of the lottery process. "When news came out that it was a qualifying team that got the number one pick, so many markets were engaged."
That hope comes during a boom in the trading card industry, something Carlin and his Upper Deck teammates are thrilled about.
The NHLPA doesn't allow a skater to appear on an officially-licensed rookie card until he plays in a regular season NHL game. Because of the pandemic, the 2020-21 season won't start until January at the earliest. Upper Deck has been working to get Lafreniere on official rookie cards before that happens.
"We are in some other-worldly circumstances here," Carlin said. "The fact that he's a spokesperson allows us other opportunities. Our hope is to have it as early as possible."
"We have a release, Upper Deck Series 1 coming in November. That's really our hope — to get his first licensed rookie in there. We still have some hurdles to jump through in terms of approvals, but we're working through that. Collectors won't have to wait too long."
Upper Deck already dropped exchange cards in 2020-21 MVP Hockey, that will be swapped for licensed rookie cards once Lafreniere plays in an NHL game.