Though he would likely tell you otherwise after Sweden fell to Canada in the Gold Medal matchup, Lias Andersson had a successful showing at the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
The 2017 seventh-overall pick of the Rangers entered the tournament as captain of the Swedes and on their top line. He did not disappoint, with six goals and one assist in seven games. Here are those six goals.
A topic that came up throughout the tournament was concerning how much of Andersson’s success was due to his teammates. It’s a fair discussion.
It’s hard to argue that Andersson wasn’t the recipient of elite playmaking. Elias Pettersson and Alex Nylander were undoubtedly two of the three-best wingers in the tournament. Defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Timothy Liljegren are precision passers. Save for his goal off of a takeaway against Switzerland, all of his goals were due to some excellent passing. It’s hard to imagine him scoring six with lesser teammates.
It goes both ways, though. He did a lot of the labor to win pucks, create zone entries, and tire out the opposition with board battles. He has the instincts and lower-body strength to plant himself around the slot and get into scoring positions. He wasn’t riding coattails, but rather complemented their games well. And as our friend Alex Nunn pointed out, Nylander and Pettersson weren’t particularly effective when Andersson wasn’t on their line.
What the scoresheet doesn’t show, at least explicitly, is Andersson’s all-around game. His strength and motor manifested in a number of ways throughout the tournament. He made a number of smart, anticipatory backchecks throughout the tournament. Here are two of them.
I also felt that Andersson did a superlative job around the boards. Board battles aren’t pretty, but they are important for keeping shifts alive after dump-ins, rebounds, or broken passes. A player like Andersson can prevent the opposition from clearing the zone and instead gives his team another opportunity to set up with possession in the offensive zone. His ability to do this, as well as get back after turnovers and transition plays, was part of what allowed Nylander and Pettersson to make the higher-risk plays that they did.
Approval ratings for prospects are usually a wave of recency bias and extremism. Andersson was not nearly as bad as some would have wanted you to believe last September. I imagine public opinion is now going to sway too far in the other direction after the tournament he had.
Andersson had an underwhelming training camp and a slow start to his season in the Swedish Hockey League. However, he has produced five goals and five assists in his last 10 games with Frolunda before arriving for the World Juniors, where he put together a stellar performance. I’ll save the hypothetical redrafts of the 2017 class for another time, but Andersson is developing as expected and has the makings of a quality player for the Rangers.