It’s been a whirlwind season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. From high-profile offseason subtractions, a vast plethora of injuries, the COVID-19 pandemic, and their surprising play, fans will certainly remember the 2019-20 campaign. With the NHL’s 24-team, return-to-play playoff format finalized, the Blue Jackets are slated to face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given the long layoff, Columbus expects many of their high-profile names such as Seth Jones, Alexandre Texier, Cam Atkinson, and Oliver Bjorkstrand to return to the lineup by the time the puck drops later this summer.
Last week, the Blue Jackets received some unfortunate news regarding another player on the injured reserve. As it turns out, Josh Anderson, one of their most impactful forwards, is set to miss the opening round play-in series against Toronto. To add insult to injury, it’s looking more and more likely that his season is over after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. So what is it about Anderson’s game that’s so valuable and what will the Blue Jackets miss most from his absence? Let’s read on and find out.
The Size Factor
Height and weight are important, measurable attributes amongst NHL players. In today’s game, having “pro size” is a huge plus and a major focal point for pro scouts, coaches, and general managers. When you look at Anderson, it doesn’t take much to realize that he is a physical specimen. At 6-foot-3, 222 pounds, he’s built like a truck and an absolute “pain in the butt” to play against. He possesses what few wingers in the game own: terrific size.
What makes Anderson so effective (and such a big loss) is how he uses his size to get in on the forecheck, wreak havoc against opposing defenders, and his ability to score and make plays. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning from last season’s playoff matchup, when “Andy” and the Jackets shocked the hockey world by defeating the 62-win, 128-point Lightning four games to zero in their opening-round series.
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When you talk about Anderson, his tremendous size remains one of his most valuable assets. Against a highly skilled team like the Maple Leafs, I’m sure head coach John Tortorella would enjoy the luxury of playing Anderson head-to-head against players such as John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly in a best-of-five series.
The Physicality Factor
Anderson loves to play a physical brand of hockey. Inspired from his time in Junior with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), which saw him tally 62 goals, 182 penalty minutes and a plus-58 rating over three seasons, his physicality remains one of his most sought-after attributes. As a player, there’s a lot to like about his game that makes his impending absence from the Columbus lineup all the more significant. The Burlington, Ontario-native has certainly made his mark in the NHL since being drafted by the Blue Jackets back in the 4th round, 95th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
At age 26, Anderson has established himself as one of the premier power forwards in the league. His unique combination of high-caliber skill, skating ability, size, and physicality draw few comparables from around the National Hockey League. Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals is one name that comes to mind. Both Wilson and Anderson play a heavy game, possess formidable skill sets, and use their size and speed to devastating effects on each and every shift. Both can also be considered modern-day NHL “unicorns” because of how intriguing and rare their styles of play are compared to others across the NHL landscape.
Despite only playing in 26 games this season due to his shoulder injury, Anderson is an integral piece on the Blue Jackets. When he’s in the lineup, he has an unmatched work ethic, gets to the “dirty areas,” leads by example, and is the type of player that any team would cherish. He is also a very versatile and low-maintenance player. He can skate and excel in a top-6 role (see his 27 goals from last season), or provide secondary scoring on the power play and on the Jackets’ third line. His absence will loom large for the team during the NHL’s 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Looking ahead, there really is no substitution or “quick fix” for the Jackets without the services of Anderson. Like he’s been doing all season, Tortorella will continue to preach the importance of being mentally strong and playing for one another. With number 77 “in the mix,” the Jackets are a better and more dynamic team.
His captivating style of play, intensity, and ability to bring it every night, makes Anderson the ideal player to “go to war with” in the NHL playoffs. His physicality and size would also be a tremendous asset against the high-powered Toronto offense. One final question begs, can the Blue Jackets get past the Maple Leafs with such an important player missing? Only time will tell.
My name is Domenic Lunardo, and I cover all things Blue Jackets here at The Hockey Writers. I am an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Toronto, with an unmatched passion for the beautiful sport of hockey.