Blueshirt Banter’s Round Table on Lias Andersson

After starting the year with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers recalled Lias Andersson in early November. The Rangers’ 2017 seventh overall pick has passed the 10-game mark that burned the first year of his entry-level contract and currently has played 18 games at the NHL level and spent a game in the press box as a healthy scratch. Through those games, his performance has received some negative attention because of his five points and underlying numbers.

With that in mind, we at Blueshirt Banter wanted to dive into Andersson’s start to the year — from preseason until now — to assess not just how he’s performed, but how the team’s handled him so far.

Did you think Andersson would make the roster out of training camp based on his preseason performance?

Tom: No. Andersson played well and was awarded the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as the top rookie in training camp, but he was never going to play ahead of Mika Zibanejad or Kevin Hayes. The goal was for Andersson to get playing time, and he was better off playing top-six minutes with the Wolf Pack as opposed to the toiling in the bottom six of the Rangers. That is what the organization wanted, and it was easier for them to put Brett Howden in the third line role instead.

Mike: I thought he should have, but Howden’s emergence cast that into some doubt.

Joe: No. Andersson played well, but I always thought there was going to be a battle between the two lines of thinking “is a 4C in the NHL better than a 1C in the AHL.” My bet was AHL seasoning would win out, which it did.

Phil: Nope.

Evan: Yes.

Pat: Eh, I’m not really sure anyone outside of Chytil struck me as exceptional during preseason and “earned” their roster spot so I don’t know really. Preseason is a fickle thing anyways to me in that sure, it’s a small sample size, but sometimes you see something meaningful despite that and it really does work out long term. Other times you definitely do get a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing going on. Overall I’d say this one isn’t really a question I find myself asking in my broader Andersson analysis, but it’s certainly thought-provoking and worth asking.

Jack: He wasn’t outstanding, but between the organization’s stated desire to play younger players and his draft pedigree, I figured it would have been enough.

Scott: No, I didn’t expect him to make it out of camp. Andersson’s still a young prospect and I figured the Rangers would have rather seen him playing big minutes in the AHL than stuck in a limited role in the NHL.

Tobias: Yes, I did think he’d make the team. But I was of the opinion then and I’m of the opinion now that playing a big role in Hartford would be a better development path for him rather then being pigeon holed as a “two-way” C who kills penalties this early in his career.

Shayna: I’m going to echo Joe with the “top-six minutes in the AHL versus bottom-six in the NHL” argument. There were only two open center slots for prospects with Zibanejad and Hayes ahead of him, and all three prospects ideally got to start at their natural position of center.

It’s not about how a player starts, but how they finish. When Andersson’s play fizzled after his strong start and Howden picked it up later in preseason, it became clear that he’d get that NHL slot over Andersson (since I think Chytil was a lock based on his play and progression). Top-six minutes and some stability — instead of starting at the NHL, maybe being demoted, and then another call up — was preferable after Andersson started in training camp in New York, went to Sweden, then World Juniors, Hartford, New York, and lastly the World Championship last year.

Did you think Andersson deserved his promotion to the NHL?

Tom: Andersson’s promotion to the AHL, as I discussed on Bantering the Blueshirts, was very much a situation in which he was the “next man up.” His numbers in Hartford were decent, 12 points in 14 games, but it wasn’t as if he was tearing the league up. It would have been better for him to stay down there longer, and it appears he may be headed back down at some point. His promotion to me was a situation of them wanting to give him a shot, and having to make a decision based on injuries.

Mike: Based on his preseason and Drury’s assessment of Andersson not having “any huge holes” in his game, I think he earned the call-up.

Joe: Given the context of where the team was with injuries? Yes.

Phil: Yes, though I did have immediate concerns about his ability to find quality minutes given he was recalled due to a short-term injury.

Evan: Yes.

Pat: I’d say so I think, but I would also say that it’s heavily context dependent for me. Sure his scoring was largely on the PP, but couldn’t he play on the PP here? How good were his linemates? As good as they would be in NY? I feel like there’s a lot of moving parts involved in this analysis and that reasonable people can disagree, and I also think there may be some conflation in this larger debate about whether he “earned his promotion” or whether “it’s time.” The former is incredibly tailored, when you really get to the crux of it, on how well his individual performance has improved almost in total isolation, while the latter has an expanse of contextual factors up here and down there (or up there and down here, I suppose) to be taken into account. This is another “I don’t know” from me, sorry.

Jack: He was arguably one of the organization’s 12 best forwards coming into camp, and putting up 12 points in 14 AHL games can’t be viewed as anything other than good regardless of how he scored those points, so he deserved to be in New York rather than Hartford.

Scott: Almost definitely. Andersson was doing well in the AHL and it’d be good to see him against NHL competition

Tobias: Yes, definitely. He was doing really well for Wolf Pack.

Shayna: I lean yes based on his play in Hartford. I also lean yes because with Howden out, he had a place in the lineup as a center. I hesitate because it was such a short term gap in the lineup to fill and the coaches were struggling to find time for both Howden and Chytil already; bringing Andersson up only complicated that even more. The last thing, I’d think, they should want is moving him up and down throughout the year.

What do you think of his performance so far at the NHL level? Is he getting enough of an opportunity or is he just not earning his time? Do you agree with how he’s been handed by the coaching staff so far?

Tom: I touched upon this in my piece on Andersson here, so I will post the salient points again:

“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.” “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.”

Mike: Andersson’s performance in the NHL this season has been utterly underwhelming. With that being said, he’s not been afforded the kind of opportunities we’ve seen Chytil and Howden receive (however brief those opportunities may have been). I believe it is hard for him to “earn his time” because of how he’s been deployed by Quinn and the coaching staff. This might be Quinn focusing too much on “winning games” and not enough on developing his players, but it’s been disappointing to see Andersson not get more of an opportunity on special teams regardless of how quiet he’s been in the bottom-six forward group. Making him a healthy scratch is also pretty disappointing.

Joe: I think Andersson is being put in a very difficult situation. The Rangers’ bottom-six, and specifically their fourth line, has been a rotating wheel of problems and AHL-forwards. To pin Andersson’s struggles on him alone would be unfair. I think Andersson has been serviceable, but he needs the AHL seasoning that he was getting before his callup. That, or David Quinn needs to let him learn how to swim at the NHL level with a more expanded role. The same issues I had with Chytil are now impacting Andersson, although to a lesser extent.

Phil: He looks like your run-of-the-mill bottom-six forward. In and of itself, there’s little issue with this. He finishes his checks and is generally aggressive in his puck pursuit, but has thus far lacked the scoring cache to justify his draft position. That’s something that can’t simply be glossed over, especially as Casey Mittelstadt seems to be finding his NHL legs.

Evan: Not great, BUT I think he deserves more of an opportunity than he’s gotten. From his SHL and AHL days, he’s a guy who makes his money standing right beside the goalie on the power play, and he’s gotten less than a minute of power play time in total THIS ENTIRE SEASON. He’s also averaging about 10 minutes of even strength ice time per game, which puts him roughly as a 4th liner in terms of ice time on the Rangers. So... his results haven’t been great, I agree, but I don’t think that he has gotten the opportunity to, in my opinion, do much of anything productive.

Pat: It seems to me to be a bit of an ouroboros in that he’s playing with bad linemates, so he’s performing poorly, so he’s not getting minutes, which means he’s playing with bad linemates, which means he’s playing poorly... and so on. Or, if you’d prefer, it’s an inverse of the “tastes great” “less filling” Miller Lite ad from before I could legally drink — you can’t have it both ways.

I think it’s tricky because if a player can’t perform well without certain linemates are they truly that good? That’s like a big picture hockey question that needs a small library of game footage and analysis to be answered, so I’ll just say this: I think if you could go back and take every minute he’s played, keeping the number, and put him with better linemates, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Further, if you kept him with the same crappy linemates and just bumped up the amount of minutes they got, like a KZB or something, then he’d still probably be just fine, or at least the least of our worries.

Jack: He’s been mostly invisible, but he also hasn’t gotten much of a chance to prove himself either. I’m not a believer that players that are expected to be good need to start from the bottom and “earn their minutes”, so starting him in the bottom six with less-than stellar linemates isn’t helpful to Andersson or the Rangers as they attempt to evaluate him. There’s only so much you can do when you’re flanked by AHL fodder like Steven Fogarty, so it’s tough to analyze what Andersson truly is right now.

Scott: Very meh to put it simply. It would have been nice to see more success from Andersson (like how quickly Chytil has made an impact), but I don’t think a lot of people expected Andersson to have such a quick impact in the NHL. He’s only 20 and has plenty of time to keep developing and adjusting to the NHL. I also don’t think he’s being put in the right situation. Throwing him on the fourth line for 10 minutes a night with Cody McLeod isn’t good for anyone and it would have been much easier for him to succeed in the NHL if he already had a full AHL season under his belt.

Tobias: He was struggling at the start when being used in a bigger role, some of that can probably be accredited to adjusting to the NHL — it’s a big jump from AHL. Then he got demoted and slowly started to play better, even though it didn’t show on the score sheet. Not sure he’s earned a bigger role but I also don’t think he should have to, when you’re among the teams top prospects you should be given opportunities even when you don’t necessarily deserve them, that’s what I think at least. I definitely don’t agree with how he’s been handled — either give him a decent chunk of ice time (preferably some PP time in there too, he’s always been good on the PP) and good linemates or send him back to Wolf Pack. Playing him under 10 minutes a night with sub par linemates and no PP time won’t help him develop.

Shayna: I agree with Jack and Tobias here. I don’t think Andersson’s had the best opportunity to thrive, but I also don’t think he’s necessarily earned more minutes. I have a few concerns with how he’s been handled so far. Earlier this season, Chytil was doing all of the right things — he was driving play, getting the puck on net, generating dangerous chances — but he wasn’t scoring. His ice time reflected the scoresheet, not everything else he was actually contributing. It wasn’t until he started scoring that his minutes truly reflected his play. Had he been moved up sooner, with more skilled linemates, I think he would have capitalized on those opportunities sooner. I think the same with Andersson, although he hasn’t been nearly as noticeable as Chytil was — so that sense, he hasn’t earned more minutes. I think that has to be set aside though, to see what he can do when given a better opportunity.

What do you think the Rangers should do next? Should he be played more because it’s a rebuilding year? Should he be shifted to wing? Should he be sent to the AHL?

Tom: Andersson should go to the AHL, for an extended period, potentially the rest of the season. It is unclear what the Blueshirts are going to do with Kevin Hayes, and he currently owns the second spot behind Mika Zibanejad. Long term Andersson should be able to play center at the NHL level, and he needs an extended period in a specific role with a regular set of linemates. There doesn’t seem to be a set plan for him, and I feel whatever gets him the most opportunity and ice time is best for his development.

Mike: I’m not exactly a prospect or player development guru, but I have to imagine that the best thing for Andersson is to be sent down to Hartford. He needs more ice time and it’s clear he isn’t going to get that in New York. It’s also far too early to give up on the idea of him as a center. He’s still only 20. Andersson needs to prove that he can produce and out-play the opposition on 5-on-5 at the AHL level. Let him develop as the Wolf Pack’s top line center and surround hiim with established AHL veterans or guys that seem to be adjusting to the AHL well early, like Tim Gettinger.

Joe: The Rangers still appear to be trying to win, although with the slew of injuries and potential trades incoming it’s hard to think the team expects a playoff berth this season. One also needs to understand that Quinn is also finding HIS footing in the NHL, and he’s experimented with a lot of different looks — presumably because he knows he’s going to be down a forward or two come February. I’d bet that Andersson sticks in the NHL until the trade deadline, and then gets to spread his wings once a few trades are made.

Phil: The thing about rebuilds that a sizable number of fans don’t really appreciate or understand is that it’s not an invitation to simply “play the kids.” Sheep need shepherds, and a lot of kids need time to develop and mature in a winning environment in order to properly transition to the NHL. Andersson is no exception to this rule. Moving him all over the lineup card, slashing his ice time, and/or scratching him aren’t exactly conducive to proper development. Not nearly as consistently playing 20+ minutes a night for the Wolf Pack would be. Especially if the alternative is basically not playing.

Evan: This is a difficult question, honestly. I think Lias should be in the AHL for the rest of the season if the Rangers aren’t going to prioritize his development. In my opinion, Lias -- in addition to Howden and Chytil -- should be considered a prize prospect and treated and developed as such. Lias is getting the short end of the stick of the 3 right now, and that’s not right for him. Let him go to the AHL where he can act and be treated as a top offensive player.

Pat: I think the plan right now it obvious to me, but requires a ton of execution smarts on the part of the front office, and might create a maladaptive incentive. Hear me out: we need to make a trade. Ok, simple enough right? Well if you need to make a trade to open up room for your prospect to succeed, grow, and develop into a bona fide NHLer, then you’re going to make a trade you didn’t have to when you could potentially get a better deal. It’s not unlike the last time the Ranger’s felt they “had to” make a trade and then wound up with ... Lias Andersson? We’d be at “repeating itself as farce” on this one.  Still, if Gorts can get the damn thing done right by pulling off a killer trade and bumping Lias up the depth chart then we’d be breaking the cruel cycles of time, or something.

Jack: The Rangers say they’re prioritizing the future of the franchise, but talk is cheap. If they’re serious about that, then their young players should be given as much opportunity as possible to play meaningful minutes. In the case of Andersson, that means bumping Kevin Hayes back to the wing and letting Andersson battle with Filip Chytil and Brett Howden for minutes down the middle. Is Hayes better at center than wing? Is he a better center than Andersson? Yes and yes, but Kevin Hayes isn’t going to be on the team in ten weeks, so what the Rangers do with him is infinitely less important than how they handle their highest draft pick since 2004 (6th Overall, Al Montoya. Ouch).

Scott: The Rangers should either play him more and see how he does or send him down to the AHL where he can play a more impactful role. Andersson is one of the Rangers top prospects and it’s time that the Rangers start treating him like it.

Tobias: Either play him more and with some better linemates and some PP time or send him back down to Wolf Pack, doesn’t matter that much if he’s playing wing or center in my opinion.

Shayna: As much as I think players have to earn their minutes, I don’t think kids should have to start in the bottom-six and work their way up — which Howden, Chytil, and Andersson all have had to do. So, I think Andersson should get a chance higher in the lineup with more ice time to see if his performance changes.

There’s a lot of pressure on him considering what was given up for that pick and where he was drafted, and that pressure likely only increased when he didn’t make the team this season. I think a promotion could instill confidence into him that he may need. Maybe that means shifting Hayes back to wing, where he played a game recently and played well enough. Maybe it means taking over for Howden and bumping him to the fourth line after his play slipped since his hot start. What do the Rangers have to lose? They’re already losing a good chunk of their games and underperforming, so why not? If it doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to go back to Hartford. But before they send him back, he should get a chance where he’s put in the best possible position to succeed.

What’s your long-term outlook on Andersson?

Tom: Andersson is going to be an NHL player, chances are a very good one, but I still feel like he’s not someone I would have picked at number seven overall. This isn’t revisionist history, being a Monday morning QB or saying they should have picked Mittelstadt. In my opinion, the Rangers moved Derek Stepan to get a first-round pick in the top 10 with the goal of using that pick to move up. The Rangers allegedly attempted to trade into the top of the draft in 2016 in order to select Clayton Keller.

When they were unable to do so again in 2017, they picked someone they really liked with upside, and a player they felt would be in the NHL relatively quickly. This allowed the Rangers to be risky with their 21st overall pick, and the selection of Filip Chytil has proved to be a wise one. Andersson’s production at other levels is promising, but I ultimately feel he’s going to be a two-way second-line center who is in the 50 to 55 point range. Given the way offense has increased in the league this season, it is possible it is more years down the road. Andersson will be a valuable player who gets power play time, kills penalties, is a leader in the room and responsible in their own end. In some ways, he ultimately can turn into a very similar player to Stepan which is fine, because Derek Stepan was a very good and underrated player during his time in New York. It is still early, and things can change,

Mike: Andersson projects to be a second line or “1B” center with limited offensive upside. He will likely make his biggest offensive impact on the power play as a guy who finds greasy goals and deflections around the net. With any luck, he could become a shutdown center who excels at killing penalties. But we need to see him demonstrate a greater understanding of the game and his role in the neutral and defensive zones before we get our hopes up.

Joe: Andersson appears to be exactly what we all expected, a two-way center who can put up about 50 points. I’d compare him to a Derek Stepan, although at this point it’s too soon to say if he’s be equally impactful on both ends of the ice. The important thing to remember is that Andersson IS growing, and there’s a lot to his game. He’s exceeded expectations from a point-production standpoint at every stage of the game he’s played in, so there’s no reason to get down on his slow start as of right now.

Phil: “Not great, Bob!”

I get the sample size is small, but Andersson feels a lot like Manny Malhotra right now. Not just because he was a high selection, but because his actual NHL ceiling feels awfully low given where he was taken and the potential of those taken directly after him.

His ice time has fluctuated, seemingly by the game, but two points in 16 games can’t be swept away simply because he’s on the fourth line.

Evan: If he’s treated right, I honestly believe that he can be a dominant two-way center in the league. I don’t think he’ll be a Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews, but I have little doubt that he can be a consistent 50+ point player who can handle tough opposition. The Rangers, however, need to groom him for that opportunity if they want him to reach his potential. I will say this though — watch out for Lias Andersson once the Rangers make some deadline moves. If the Rangers lose some of their forward depth, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Lias pick up his offensive game significantly with the added opportunity and responsibility.

Pat: My long-term outlook is he basically turns into Derek Stepan (which to me is more than good, because Stepan was actually really super good and the haters just didn’t get it/didn’t pronounce his name right anyways). Not worried at all, and in fact I’m a pretty big fan already! All smiles over here, Rome wasn’t built in a day. There’s a ton more here about ceiling, draft position, and development curves (my understanding is your NHL career is over by ... *furiously whacking a calculator* age 22?) but all of that is far too much for me to get into right now, since we’re doing this on a Google Doc and I’m feeling self-conscious about crowding up the spreadsheet.

Jack: Capable middle six center to supplement Zibanejad and Chytil. I think he tops out as a second line/prime Mike Fisher type player. Great if he’s your 3C, solid but unspectacular if he’s your 2C. It’s not his fault he got traded for Derek Stepan and probably won’t ever be as good as him, but that’s the reality of things.

Scott: He doesn’t have offensively ceiling that Chytil and Buchnevich have but Andersson has the potential to be a really solid two-way NHL center. At his best I see him as a 50+ point second line center but think he ideally becomes a team’s great 3C who can handle tough assignments.

Tobias: I’m projecting him to be a two way 50 point C with his floor as a 35 point 3C and his ceiling as a 1C. His numbers have been stellar and right in that top tier of his draft class for his entire career, he destroyed SuperElit in his D-1 year, he was close to 0.5 PPG in SHL with good underlying numbers in his draft year, and last season he scored at a really strong pace in both SHL and AHL while yet again having solid underlying metrics (CF%, Rel CF%, Individual shot generation etc).

Lias is, and has always been, very underrated as a prospect because he’s not flashy, he’s a super smart player who’s found ways to score more then almost everyone else in his age group at every level he’s played.

Shayna: I think Andersson projects to be a second line center, but I could see him becoming a ‘1B’ if he pivots the first line. If we’re comparing the Rangers’ center prospects, I’d put Chytil down the middle of the first line, Andersson second, and Howden third. He isn't flashy, he is comparable to Stepan, and there’s a lot to like about him. But I think when we analyze Andersson, we really have to separate him from the trade. Analyzing the trade and the Rangers’ decision making is one thing, but his actual performance has to be separate because it’s unfair — it’s not a fate he chose and it’s unnecessary pressure that he doesn’t need. Anyways, he’s a well-rounded, two-way player that may never get the accolades of a high-scoring center unless he becomes the guy like Toews, Bergeron, or Kopitar, but he can still become an excellent player. It’s too soon to sour on him just yet.