When I think of Lias Andersson and his current situation with the New York Rangers, the song “Fix You” by Coldplay comes to mind immediately.
“When you try your best but you don’t succeed... When you get what you want but not what you need...”
Lias Andersson was recalled on November 5, and the news had to be music to his ears. It was tough for him to not break camp with the team when Brett Howden effectively took his roster spot — especially after he got off to such a strong start in preseason.
The initial demotion wasn’t optimal because Andersson’s NHL readiness was pitched as a big selling point for drafting him, but going to Hartford this season provided him an opportunity to be the number center for an extended period. It would have been a chance for him to build confidence, become even more acquainted with North American ice, and develop at his own pace.
Injuries have impacted the Rangers early on in the season, and the plan was interrupted because Andersson was the next man up. The promotion was what Andersson wanted, a deserved one because he was doing his best with 12 points in 14 games, but may not have been the best thing for his development.
Andersson’s role hasn’t been ideal since making his 2018-19 debut because he’s had a lot of obstacles in his way. In recent games he’s seen time away from the fourth line, instead playing as the third line left wing — still, going forward there needs to be a plan in place for his long term development.
If the plan for Andersson is to use him because he’s one of the better replacements available, he is better served going back to Hartford with Boo Nieves or Peter Holland replacing him as the fourth line center. At this point it is important to see what he’s capable of, and the Rangers won’t full be able to do that with him playing minimal minutes.
Andersson has skated in 14 games since his recall, averaging 11:04 a game, and his body of work includes a goal and two assists for three points.
He’s been asked to skate alongside a lot of different players by David Quinn, and at some point there needs to be some consistency in his usage. Filip Chytil toiled on the fourth line earlier this season before getting a promotion to the top six on the wing. He made the most of that opportunity and has looked like a different player than the one who broke camp with the team.
Brett Howden also experienced some time as the fourth line center, but he’s settled in as the Blueshirts’ number three center. He’s primarily played with Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast, and the trio generated some results before injuries propelled the two wingers to flank Mika Zibanejad on the top line.
In the case of Andersson, his 5v5 usage has been all over the place. The most consistent line combination he’s been a part of is just 20:27 with Howden and Ryan Strome, followed by 18:43 with Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, 10:43 with Steven Fogarty, Tim Gettinger, 9:49 with Cody McLeod and Vinni Lettieri and 8:58 with McLeod and Fogarty.
The long story short, Andersson has played with a number of linemates, mainly bottom-six and AHL players besides Hayes and Kreider. He shouldn’t be gifted a spot, but there should be a plan as to who his linemates are. The sample size of Andersson is small at 14 games, and it is even harder to evaluate him because he’s spent a little time with a lot of people.
He’s also been rotated between wing and center, like Chytil, and finding a “permanent” place for him is ideal. If Quinn were able to keep him at center and give him linemates who know what they are doing when the puck is on their stick, it would be easier to evaluate him. Andersson is a two-way playmaker, and there have been instances in which he’s skated with the puck and made a great play only for his linemates to squander an opportunity.
The Rangers retired Vic Hadfield’s No. 11 on Sunday, and during the ceremony there was a lot of talk about the effectiveness of the “GAG” line. The line was effective because it featured three very talented players, two of which are Hockey Hall of Famers, but also effective because they were able to spend so much time together and develop chemistry.
In recent years we have seen the magic of the KZB line including Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, and it has been successful when it has been left alone. And in recent games with Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Chytil.
The Rangers are already at a disadvantage because Buchnevich, Vlad Namestnikov and Mats Zuccarello are currently out of the lineup. This has forced Quinn to juggle things a little more, which is reasonable. So given the lack of winger depth on the roster currently with all of those injuries, shifting him to the wing makes sense. Zibanejad has been amazing with 25 points in 28 games, and Hayes has also played well with 17 points. Those two aren’t going anywhere and neither is Howden. Howden ranks third in 5v5 points (11) and fourth in 5v5 primary points (8).
Much like I advocated for Chytil when Buchnevich went down, Andersson should get a chance on the top wing alongside Zibanejad.
My opinion on Chytil is that the underlyings are good despite not getting actual results. What is the harm of giving him five games on the top line with Buch out for next 4-6 weeks, and Zucc still out. If at that point he is unable to get results, you reevaluate.— Tom Urtz Jr. (#HFC2018 #HockeyFightsCancer) (@TomUrtzJr) November 12, 2018
The main difference here is that Andersson’s underlying numbers haven’t been great, and given the multiple minutes spent with various linemates it is truly impossible to pin down whether or not he is the problem, or is being dragged down. Cumulatively, in a very small sample. he has a CF% of 40, a GF% of 40, a SCF% of 39.32, and a PDO of 99.1.
The team can afford to have him there for a stretch run of games, because it would provide an opportunity for Andersson to show if his production, rather lack thereof, is tied to who he is skating with. If Andersson were to still flounder in that spot, Quinn essentially would be vindicated for how he’s handled the Rangers’ 2017 seventh overall pick. As for the right wing to complete the trio, I would suggest Strome just so the line of Vesey, Howden and Fast could get back together.
This line has spent 70:25 together and has a CF% of 49.61, a GF% of 57.14, a SCF% of 50 but a PDO of 105.5. When filtered for relative numbers, the line’s CF% of is +4.20, GF% is +11.49 and SCF% is +4.33
It would be hard to “punish” Vesey who has played very well—second in 5v5 goals (6) fifth in 5v5 points (10) and 5v5 primary points (9)—but this would be an exercise of promoting a player and reuniting a line that has worked. Often times a coach will try and get someone going, and jumble the lines in the process. That wouldn’t happen in this situation. Another reason why Andersson on the top line would something worth trying is because it would put his ability of producing at every level to the test.
That is something that has been associated with Andersson thus far, and the numbers speak for themselves. Via Elite Prospects, during the 2015-16 campaign as a member of HV71 J18 in the SuperElit, he tallied 24-35-59 in 37 games. In 2016-17 with HV71 of the SHL, he posted a line of 9-10-19 in 42 games. Last season he was loaned to Frolunda and in 22 games scored seven goals and added seven helpers for 14 points. He then produced with 14 points in 22 games with the Wolf Pack after coming to North America. The Rangers have nothing to lose at this point, and frankly it makes more sense to try out a unknown in a primary offensive role as opposed to a known lesser commodity such as Fast. So while Andersson projects to be a center long term, right now he’s better off as a top-nine winger as opposed to a fourth line center.
If all goes to plan, Lias Andersson is going to be a big part of the Rangers once they come out of the rebuild and are ready to contend. This would see him become the Blueshirts’ number one center, or the number two behind Filip Chytil. He certainly needs to do his part to prove he belongs, but he isn’t going to be able to paddle his canoe upstream without an oars.
Andersson hasn’t been given much of a big break thus far, and now is the perfect time. The team is already down a number of top six forwards, and if he can’t hang on the first or second line then a demotion would be justified. We won’t know that until Quinn tries, and hopefully that is something that is part of the plan with Andersson.