Rasmus Andersson played his first season in North America this past year after being chosen in the first round, 37th overall, of the 2014 CHL Import Draft by the Barrie Colts. While many did not know how he would fare adjusting to the smaller ice surface in North America, he excelled, leading all Colts defenders in points and ranking third in the OHL only behind high NHL draft picks Anthony DeAngelo and Chris Bigras.Andersson opened the season with some fanfare, ranking as a possible first-round prospect. While he didn’t maintain that lofty prediction, he still is high on scouts’ radar, ranking right outside the first round at 32nd on Craig Button’s March rankings. With Andersson being in the conversation as a possible high pick in next month’s NHL Draft in Florida, here is a breakdown of the young Swedish defenseman.
Andersson has been picking up steam, being mentioned as a potential first-round pick since his strong finish to the OHL season. A common theme to his scouting reports is his propensity for making the intelligent, safe play, rather than to try and skate the puck out or make a fancy deke around a defending player like some of the higher-ranked defenders in the draft (such as Oliver Kylington). However, this does not mean that Andersson lacks high-end skating and puck-moving ability; he is considered one of the sturdiest skaters among defenders this season thanks to his solid 6’0″, 209 pound frame. Christopher Ralph of The Hockey Writers had this to say about Andersson’s defensive play:
Overall, Rasmus isn’t a risky player and will make the intelligent play to clear the puck rather than a few dekes to get around a forechecker. He also adds an element of truculence and throws his weight around quite a bit, often ending up with the puck. Andersson battles in the corners, along the boards, and in front of the net.
He is not strictly a shutdown defender, however, as he possesses good offensive skills and could develop into a solid powerplay quarterback and point-producing blueliner. His main offensive weapon is his impressive shot:
Andersson is far from a shoot-first defenseman, as he combines first-rate passing skills with elite vision and playmaking ability. All these things in one strong, 210 pound package make for one potentially great future powerplay quarterback. All-in-all, Andersson looks like a strong, responsible two-way defenseman who can boost an NHL powerplay with his great shot and advanced offensive instincts. Given these traits, as well as his reputation for making the safe, smart play rather than a flashy move or risky pass, I would compare his playing style to a poor man’s Drew Doughty.
Now, obviously Andersson probably won’t end up as a 2-time Olympic Gold medalist, 2-time cup winner, or Norris Trophy finalist, there are similarities between the two. Beyond offensive ability, overcoming being somewhat undersized, or their ability to run the powerplay, Doughty was seen as a strong-skating, industrious defenseman going into his draft as well. Take this scouting report from Hockeyprospect.com, and you’ll see that Doughty and Andersson have some similarities:
An offensively skilled young rear-guard with great instincts for creating scoring chances and break-outs. Is an excellent passer and has a wickedly hard shot. Can play very well defensively when necessary, as evidenced by his play at the World Juniors for Canada, where he was the top defenceman in the tournament. Doughty has very quick feet, coming from his background of playing soccer and it shows when contesting the puck with his skates.
While it is unlikely Andersson develops into the all-world defender that Doughty is, the offensive ability, defensive instincts, and shooting prowess of Andersson bring back flashes of #8, formerly of the Guelph Storm.
With all the great prospects available for this year’s draft, it is most likely that Andersson goes somewhere in the late first round to the mid 2nd round, from picks 25 to 40. Here are a few teams with picks in that range that could use a young defenseman of Andersson’s calibre.
Possessing the 26th overall pick, taking Andersson might be seen as a bit of a reach, but it makes sense for Montreal on many levels. Aside from Nathan Beaulieu and possibly Jarred Tinordi, the Canadiens lack a young impact defender that might be able to step into a meaningful NHL role once veterans like Andrei Markov or Alexei Emelin depart. Taking Andersson could add punch to a sagging powerplay that converted at a pitiful 5.6% during their 2015 playoff run. GM Marc Bergevin likes to have balance on his defensive corps, and neither Beaulieu or Tinordi possesses the elusive right-handed shot that Andersson does. Expect the Canadiens to target either a young defender or centre, but in my opinion, none of the defenders potentially left on the board (such as Nicolas Meloche or Brandon Carlo) possess the upside or low risk factor that Andersson brings to the table.
While the Oilers have been targeting high-upside defensemen in recent years, their blueline is still in shambles despite the emergence of young defenders like Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin. While they have several highly-touted, young defensemen set to join the ranks (most notably OHL star Darnell Nurse), none of these young blueliners possess the offensive instincts or powerplay prowess that Andersson does. While this pick (early 2nd round, 33rd overall) could be traded for immediate NHL help or for an impact goaltender, they could target a young defense prospect with the pick instead. If the latter happens, Edmonton could look to target a high-upside defender with great offensive instincts such as Andersson.
The Hurricanes could have the top defender in the draft, Noah Hanifin, fall to them with the 5th overall pick in the draft, and in that case, don’t expect them to target another defender with the 35th pick as well. However, in the event that they miss out on the Boston College stud, picking up another potential defensive star in Rasmus Andersson wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. Aside from rising star Justin Faulk and last year’s first rounder Haydn Fleury, the Hurricanes lack many high-potential defenders in their system. Adding a potential two-way force like Andersson in the early parts of the second round would be a coup for GM Ron Francis and company, as Andersson offers a future all-around physical force at the least, with the ability to develop an elite offensive side to his game.
The Value of Rasmus Andersson
With the deep pool of elite talent available for the draft this season, it has already been touted as one of the deepest and best drafts since the legendary 2003 NHL Draft. Andersson has not been ranked by many scouts as one of the very best defenders available for the draft, choosing instead to rank QMJHL stars like Jeremy Roy, Thomas Chabot and Jakub Zboril, or young Swedish star Oliver Kylington ahead of him. However, I think he is severely underrated and is deserving of a first-round draft choice come June 26th.
One of the most important aspects of a successful team is a cornerstone blueliner, one that can play in all situations, play with a physical edge, and to be able to log lots of ice time for their respective teams. Last season’s champions, the Los Angeles Kings, have Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty averaging nearly 30 minutes a game. The Chicago Blackhawks, winners of two Stanley Cups since 2010, have last season’s Norris winner Duncan Keith patrolling their blueline. While it’s unlikely Andersson develops into the stars that Doughty and Keith are, his versatility provides immense value as a prospect.
Many defenders expected to taken outside of the top 10 picks lack some of these aspects, such as Sherbooke Phoenix ace Jeremy Roy being considered offense-first or mammoth American defender Brandon Carlo lacking high-end offensive skills. However, as Andersson showed with his play as the Barrie Colts’ go-to defender in all situations, he was put in tough scenarios against the top competition other teams had to offer and excelled. It is not often you see a player with the offensive ability of Andersson also possess the defensive acumen to play meaningful minutes on the penalty kill and against the opposition’s top scoring threats, being tasked to shut down the best players on the ice. Andersson, with his smooth skating and booming shot, could develop into a well-rounded defenseman that plays in all situations and against top competition, and the team that takes a chance on him in the late first round could have a steal in their midst.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11