On Oct. 6, 2020, Hendrix Lapierre waited for his name to be called in the 2020 NHL draft. Ranked 13th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Lapierre began to slide down the draft board because of injury concerns.
And he just kept sliding.
Finally, at No. 22, the Capitals traded up two spots to select him. Less than two years later, Lapierre was celebrating his first NHL goal in his first NHL game as he helped the Capitals defeat the New York Rangers 5-1 on Wednesday.
"I knew when I called [for] the puck [T.J. Oshie] was going to pass it to me and I got lucky," Lapierre said. "I just put the puck at the net."
The absence of star center Nicklas Backstrom created a hole in the Caps' lineup heading into the 2021-22 season. Still, the odds were long for the 19-year-old Lapierre to make the team out of camp. After scoring four assists in his first two preseason games, however, it was hard not to take notice of what Lapierre was doing on the ice.
"He's a young kid that maybe wasn't slotted right away, but you come into training camp and you work hard and you try and make a team, the door opened up with Nick going on the IR for a little bit and we needed somebody to step up," head coach Peter Laviolette said.
But Lapierre did more than just step up. He earned the respect of his teammates with his hard work and skill and that was evident when he scored Wednesday. Lapierre was celebrated by his teammates who mobbed him on the ice and by the fans who went wild despite already being up 2-0 before Lapierre's goal.
"I was just super excited for him," Oshie said. "Coming into camp here, we’ve got a veteran team and he fought his way into the lineup and earned the respect of the coaches to go out there night one, earned the respect of his teammates, of his linemates, and just in general just an all-around good kid to be around. I was super excited for him, for his family."
The goal came just 24 seconds after Justin Schultz made it 2-0 with his power-play tally. After Conor Sheary cleared the puck out of the defensive zone, Oshie found it in the offensive zone and went 1-on-1 with defenseman Jarred Tinordi.
As Oshie cut to the inside, Tinordi stayed between him and the net, but did not realize Oshie had help. Locked in a footrace down the ice with Artemi Panarin, Lapierre blew past the superstar to suddenly give the Caps a 2-on-1 opportunity. Oshie dropped the pass off for Lapierre and Lapierre did the rest, firing the shot past New York goalie Alexandar Georgiev as he was falling.
Only when he was down on the ice did Lapierre realize he had just scored his first NHL goal.
“I actually didn’t see it because I shot and I thought it went right in the chest and then I was on the ground, and then I just heard," Lapierre said. "So I didn’t really see my first goal. I kind of heard it, but after I saw the replay, obviously, it was good and the celebration, too, with the guys. I think everyone was pretty excited.”
Oshie's reaction was instantaneous. He dropped one glove and hauled up the young rookie before embracing him.
"That celebration too after Osh put me in his arms, it was pretty special," Lapierre said.
"I don’t know what was going on," Oshie said. "I knew it was his first one, I was super excited, and I just thought the celebration would’ve been better with him on his feet."
That feeling was infectious.
"When a young player comes in like that inside of a home opener in your own building and your parents are in the building, that's pretty special," Laviolette said. "That's something that you dream about, you hope you get in your first NHL game you can score a goal like that so that's pretty cool. I think that he was really excited, Osh was really excited because he yanked him up off the ice pretty quick, our bench was really excited, the fans were incredibly excited and they were awesome all night. It was one of those moments."
In terms of a first NHL goal, it would be hard to script it any better.
Lapierre makes the team out of training camp as a 19-year-old, he makes his NHL debut at Capital One Arena, his family comes in for the game and are on hand to see him score his first NHL goal in a blowout win over the New York Rangers.
"I don’t know where they were sitting. I don’t know how they celebrated, but I’m sure they were pretty happy and I think it’s just a good reward for everyone just for the past years," Lapierre said of his family. "It hasn’t been always easy, but now everyone got to see the goal and it was just a tremendous, I think, family celebration and I can’t wait to see them.”
As exciting as the moment was, it's important to also keep things in perspective. It is just one game and one goal. Lapierre still has a lot to prove before the Caps decide to play him for 10 games thus kicking in the first year of his entry-level contract. Chances are he will end up going back to his junior team in the QMJHL at some point in the near future.
But clearly the future is bright and with his goal came a measure of validation. Several teams thought he was not worth the risk during the 2020 draft and passed on him. Less than two years later, he already has his first NHL goal.
“I had a really tough draft year," Lapierre said. "I didn’t play much games and so when the Caps drafted me, obviously, I was really excited. I think I really wanted to show everyone what kind of player I was, that even if I had a tough year, it wasn’t going to affect me. So I came to camp with a goal in mind and everyone is really helpful here. I feel like I’ve grown a lot not only as a player, but as a person, too, in the past month.
"At the same time, I’ve only played one game," Lapierre added, " And I want to keep building on that and keep playing more games and getting better and building chemistry and working on small details."