It’s time to really discuss Lias Andersson and his demotion to Hartford
Stunned. That’s the word which best describes what Rangers’ fans felt when they learned Lias Andersson was among the final roster cuts. The #7 overall pick in 2017 and most NHL ready prospect of the draft was demoted to Hartford and there’s some struggle to understand why.
What the Organization is Saying
When the final roster moves were made, GM, Jeff Gorton responded to questions about Andersson with, “what’s best for him is to be playing and not be on the fourth line.” On its face, this is a fair answer in order to focus on his continued development, but you have to wonder why the Rangers in a rebuild year couldn’t find minutes for him? Gorton addressed that as well saying, “we could easily find five, seven, or eight minutes for Lias, but if we want to maximize where he’s going and what he’s gonna be for us this is the right decision.”
The player that took his spot is Brett Howden, who was acquired in the McDonagh and Miller blockbuster. Howden certainly impressed and has been projected as the perfect 3rd line center. As preseason progressed he was killing penalties and asserting himself regularly. Gorton even eluded that Howden was a better fit than Andersson right now.
What the Numbers Say
For all the judicious and logical things Gorton said about the decision, the preseason numbers tell a different tale. In 5 preseason games, Lias Andersson tallied 2 goals (one shorthanded and one power play) while averaging 13:32 of ice time. More importantly, he was a +2, took 7 shots, and won 57% of his face-offs.
On the other hand, Brett Howden played 4 games, averaged 11 minutes and tallied just 1 goal. The real concern is he was a -4 and lost 60% of his face-offs. If we are being honest here, this isn’t great, especially for a 4th line center. That role and position is traditionally reserved for defensive specialist with a keen ability to win draws. So this doesn’t add up.
Is Andersson a Bust?
The Rangers passed over potential #1 center, Casey Mittelstadt to take Lias Andersson. Mittelstadt is projected to play a large role with Buffalo this season, as was Andersson but that is now in doubt. Does that mean Andersson is a bust? The short answer is no, but concern is understandable.
Andersson was supposedly the most NHL ready forward in the draft. That was one of the main reasons why scouts selected him over other higher rated prospects. From a timetable perspective, this was all before the rebuild letter. Meaning that the Rangers were trying to restock for the future while competing in the present. Regardless, if Andersson goes on to become a solid 50 point, 2 way player and Mittelstadt is an 80+ point center, then yes, Andersson is a bust from that perspective.
Still, if Andersson makes his way back here this season and continues to develop into a 2nd line center, that plays both ends of the ice well, it will not matter what Mittelstadt does. That goes two-fold if Andersson is the future captain and leads the Rangers to their ultimate goal, a Stanley Cup.
What’s Really Going On Here
The Rangers have a lot of centers, and they also have some wingers they need to get a look at before trading. Kevin Hayes is that center and he needs to show the Rangers how good he can be before opting to extend or trade him at the deadline. Jeff Gorton cannot delay this decision into the summer because they risk losing Hayes for nothing as he is set to be a UFA come July 1st.
On the wings, Jimmy Vesey and Vlad Namestnikov have to show the organization if they fit in the longterm plans. Both Namestnikov and Vesey were not very noticeable this preseason. Namestnikov did have a goal and assist and looked good near the end of camp, but it can be argued that Vesey did not earn a spot with his 1 assist and -3 performance in 4 games.
Then you have to look at what’s happening on the blue-line. Tony DeAngelo can’t be sent down without going through waivers. That means the Rangers are carrying 8 defensemen to start. All this adds up to the fact that Jeff Gorton will be making trades and making them soon.
Andersson Will Be Back
Jeff Gorton said that he wants Andersson here in his Friday press conference. Now it will be up to him to make the appropriate moves in order to facilitate a spot for him as the 3rd line center for this season.
Trades are the primary way to make this happen, but let’s not rule out Kevin Hayes being moved to the wing also. That is the position he played in college to great success with Johnny Gaudreau as his center. A trade of Jimmy Vesey or Vlad Namestnikov along with a defenseman, plus a move to wing for Hayes would open up that spot.
The NHL season is coming soon for the Rangers, and starting now, fans need to keep their eyes and ears open to the NHL rumor mill. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to get noisy.