It’s impossible to measure just how much pressure 19-year-old Lias Andersson is under. He is one of just four forwards that the Rangers have taken with a top-10 pick in the last 20 years. The last time the Rangers picked higher than seventh overall was in 2004 when Glen Sather selected Al Montoya sixth overall; before that it was Pavel Brendl at fourth overall in 1999. One could say that with Andersson the Rangers find themselves sailing in unfamiliar waters, hoping to navigate around some of the franchise’s previous shipwrecks.
Jeff Gorton made a huge investment in Andersson long before the teenager stepped onto the stage in Chicago after hearing his name called. Naturally, with that investment comes an expectation to not just perform, but to excel.
In many ways, the deck was stacked against Andersson before he was called up to New York. In addition to facing the pressure of being the seventh overall pick, Andersson is trying to grow under the shadow of the Derek Stepan trade that made his future in New York possible in the first place. He’s also been pushed out of the spotlight by Filip Chytil, who has proven to be the more enchanting prospect because of his higher offensive ceiling.
The fiercely competitive Swede has had an impressive year. Before Gorton called him and Chytil up to finish the season in New York, Andersson put up 14 points in 22 games with Frölunda HC while on loan, he won — and tossed away — a silver medal with six goals in seven games as Team Sweden’s captain at the IIHF World U20 Championship, and he scored 14 points in 24 games with the Wolf Pack.
Andersson now has five games of NHL experience under his belt, but he only needed one game to make a lasting impression on the Garden Faihtful. On March 26, Andersson scored a goal in his NHL debut against the Washington Capitals with 10:44 TOI. Two days later he picked up his first assist — a primary assist on a Ryan Spooner goal — to start his NHL career with a two-game scoring streak.
Regardless of whether or not Andersson makes an impact in the Rangers’ final two regular season games, we can safely call his first stint in the NHL something of a success. In the past five games he has skated hard and worked even harder. Andersson has also managed the puck well and displayed some good instincts in the defensive zone. All things considered, he’s been solid playing on a line that has been dominated in puck possession in the last five games.
Will Andersson be in the starting lineup in October? Will he be playing center? We won’t know until we know. But what we do know is that Andersson doesn’t need to become the next Stepan or Patrice Bergeron to be a success story. All he needs to do is play his game and make the most of whatever opportunities he’s given by the organization moving forward. Clearly, he’s already off to a great start.