It’s been two years since the New York Rangers used the first 1st round pick the organization held in five years on Lias Andersson at 7th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In that time an already inherently complicated situation continued to evolve, layering doubt, confusion, and frustration over and over again like the folding of metal to forge a sword.
We’ve entered the next chapter now, only this one will likely be the last when it comes to Andersson and his future on the New York Rangers. On Saturday it was reported Lias Andersson had officially requested a trade and actually left the Hartford Wolf Pack entirely. The Rangers — as is the norm in these situations — suspended him for failure to report, and will now look to trade him. (Of note: The NHL’s holiday roster freeze started December 19th and will run until Friday, December 27th; so those of you expecting a quick resolution on this will have to wait for a bit).
Back in 2017 before the Rangers picked Andersson, many people realized the expectations on the pick were always going to be at a fever pitch. This wasn’t just the team’s first 1st round pick in five years, nor was it the team’s first top-10 pick since they whiffed on Dylan McIlrath in 2010. This was also the pick acquired as part of the Derek Stepan trade — an already divisive situation as it was. Whoever the Rangers brought into the fold was going to be met with a wall of expectations that anyone would have an issue scaling.
The Rangers — as they seem to always do in these egg-on-your-face situations — loudly patted themselves on the back for landing a player oozing character, leadership abilities, playing hockey the right way, and being someone who played in a men’s league overseas which gave him a leg up against those who played Junior hockey.
It was assured that the team didn’t reach for the selection despite immediate — and realistic — offensive upside concerns for someone taken so early in the draft.
Hindsight is 20/20, but Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki were two names we specifically here at Blueshirt Banter begged the Rangers to consider. How would things have looked if the Rangers had gone in a different direction there? It’s also worth noting the Rangers desperately tried to complete a trade to move up (sources confirmed to Blueshirt Banter at the time the Rangers wanted Cale Makar) and then were praying Elias Pettersson fell into their laps. Neither happened, and the Rangers needed to make a call at seven.
It is possible this interest played a role in the selection, but we know now the Rangers bucked the trend and didn’t pick the best player available. They did so for all the reasons I lifted above, reportedly being swayed by Andersson’s 4-1-5 stat line in 16 playoff games for HV71. We know now the Rangers were enamored with Andersson’s gritty crash-the-net style and hoped to see him become a future captain of the team.
We also know now none of that happened.
There are two sides to the coin with Andersson and the Rangers; both are true and both exist at the same time. The first thing is the team never put Andersson in a true position to succeed at the NHL level. In 66 NHL games Andersson didn’t even average 11 minutes of ice time, and saw fourth line teammates for a vast majority of those games, even when opportunities to move him up the lineup presented themselves. The other reality is Andersson never truly flourished in the AHL when he was sent down, and had steadily tanked his own stock from draft day forward.
I don't blame Lias Andersson for a second for wanting a fresh start with a different organization. The way NYR have handled his development has not been good.— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) December 21, 2019
But, also, the last time he's played remotely impressive hockey was the 2018 World Junior Championship.
The Rangers have been a very frustrating organization the past few months for two key prospects. Vitali Kravtsov went back to Russia — then returned, but that’s a different story — presumably because he took umbrage with guys like Brendan Smith, Micheal Haley, and Greg McKegg getting NHL minutes over him. Andersson was likely perturbed that he could do nothing right while Brett Howden can do no wrong. Say what you will about Andersson’s attitude (which is clearly an issue now that he’s up and bailed on the team) and Kravtsov being a “child” (here’s why that’s not the best feeling), but these guys aren’t NHL 20 robots, and there are easy dots to connect if you pay the slightest amount of attention.
For a rebuilding team with a coach loudly touted to be a key developer of young men this isn’t a good look.
Like it or not, some players do deserve special treatment. You can pound the desk and scream all you want about players having to be “tough” or “men” or “professionals” or “earning it” but the reality is players who are critical to the team’s future deserve to be treated a little differently than, say, a depth defender playing forward. Kravtsov is one of those players. Filip Chytil is one of those players. Right now, Kaapo Kakko is also one of those players. And Andersson was one of those players — was being the key word since he’s not anymore, now that he’s on the way out.
The Rangers did a horrific job making Andersson feel at home in the NHL, and gave bumps to other players right in front of his face. From 2017 on Andersson’s top five linemates (in terms of TOI together at even strength) are Ryan Strome, Jimmy Vesey, Brendan Lemieux, Jesper Fast, and Boo Nieves. Not gonna put up all that much offense with that group — regardless of Strome suddenly doing serious damage with Artemiy Panarin.
But that doesn’t absolve Andersson’s sins. In 10 games since his demotion, he had just two goals and one assist — all three points coming in one game. He got top-six minutes with legit AHL line mates, and PP1 responsibilities, and posted zilch in nine of the 10 games.
Reportedly his departure from the team was “surprising” to his teammates. It’s fine to request a trade — even publicly — but how his camp didn’t explain to him that him walking out on the team tanks his value and makes it harder for the team to end this quickly is beyond me. It also doesn’t help that it broke this weekend Jeff Gorton tried to get Edmonton to bite on Andersson for Jesse Puljujarvi, but the Oilers didn’t think Andersson had enough pace for the NHL. Yikes.
That’s not a perception the Rangers gave Andersson, and it’s not one a new role would have changed. Perception is reality in the NHL, yes, but it isn’t like Andersson was banging down the doors to the NHL when he was in the AHL. Look at Chytil, who went to the AHL, dominated, and then came back to the NHL a few weeks later. I refuse to tell you Chytil is only playing well now because he got sent down — his talent and abilities are the driving force behind that — but he didn’t give the Rangers a choice and forced them to bring him back. Andersson never did that, and that’s on him and only him.
Now the two sides need to part from one another as quickly as possible, which Andersson has made dramatically more difficult with his actions. It’s worth noting here that for all the talk about how enamored the organization was with Andersson’s character, that evaluation was way off base. Andersson’s actions have made everyone’s lives more difficult now, and it screams “taking my ball and going home.”
This is Gorton’s mess now — one he was trying to get out of before it got to this point it would appear. Andersson made it worse, but the Rangers provided all the heat needed to have it boil over.