Canadiens’ Josh Anderson Bringing Value Beyond the Box Score

What a year that Josh Anderson has been through.

Last year at this time, the hockey world was on pause wondering if and when a season would ever resume. Just before the season was paused, the Columbus Blue Jackets released a statement about the status of injured-winger Anderson.

Anderson was expected to miss four to six months due to surgery to repair his left shoulder. Recall that back in December 2019, Anderson got in a fight with then Ottawa Senators’ player Mark Borowiecki. Anderson left that game. That turned out to be his last game ever in a Blue Jackets’ uniform.

Despite the hope that Anderson could eventually return in the Toronto bubble, it never happened. He was on the backend of the recovery timeline as the Blue Jackets were playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Had the Blue Jackets won that series, Anderson would have been available to return.

The Decision & The Trade

The Lightning won that series in five games on their way to the Stanley Cup. And the Blue Jackets were left to evaluate where things would go next. One of those important decisions they had to make was with Anderson. He finished the 2019-20 season with just one goal. What a time to be up for a contract.

Anderson wanted to stay in Columbus but also wanted a long-term contract. The Blue Jackets were not interested in going long term. After all, he had just one goal. So that left a trade as the only outcome.

Anderson was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Max Domi and a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. This pick became defenseman Samuel Knazko. At the time, this looked like an even trade.

Even now if you look at just the numbers, this looks like an even trade. But looking at this trade from a different lens reveals an important aspect that’s rarely talked about. It might also explain why Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin was very interested in acquiring Anderson.

Anderson Is A Unique Player

There are just not many players in the league like Anderson. His combination of size and speed can have a dramatic influence on the outcome of games even if he isn’t putting up huge numbers.

Anderson did score 17 goals during the regular season which included five game winners. He also chipped in on the power play and penalty kill with one goal on each. While the goals are obviously important, it’s the other things he does on the ice that deserves praise and attention.

Related: Canadiens Proven Good Not Lucky in 2021 Playoffs

Anderson is listed at 226 pounds. For someone to have that size along with his speed is scary. He can use that speed to benefit his team in different ways.

Offensively, Anderson will use his speed on the wing to create scoring chances. But his end goal is to crash the net. It doesn’t always end up in a goal, but defenses have to account for him in that regard. How many times has a play ended either in a goal or with Anderson wiping out the goalie or the net? Andrei Vasilevskiy should expect to see lots of Anderson upcoming.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy should expect to see plenty of Josh Anderson in this series. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Anderson shows a fearlessness in his game that is rare. He knows just one way to play. This is who he is. He brings a level of energy to the game that rubs off on his teammates. When they see him going at full speed towards the net or towards an opponent, it’s hard not to feed off that energy. It was apparent when Anderson was not in the lineup due to injury. The Canadiens missed his presence.

Wait There’s More

Another thing Anderson does well is his penalty killing. Going back to his days with the Blue Jackets, he was a threat when his team was shorthanded. Good luck if you turn the puck over to him and he gets up to full speed. Players who are 6-foot-3 or taller and close to 230 pounds shouldn’t be able to skate like he does. But that’s an asset he has you can’t teach.

And then on defense, Anderson loves to hit anything that moves. When you have his size, he can land huge hits. Just ask anyone that’s had the misfortune of receiving a hit from him. It hurts.

Why is this important? If you consider the effect Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson has on games, there is an intimidation factor in play. Players know that Wilson will hit them (sometimes over the line) but they know that the possibility exists. It can alter the way they play when he’s on the ice.

Anderson has that same effect when he’s on the ice. He’ll hit you. He’ll chase you down. And then he’ll go the other way and create chaos for opposing defenses. This is why some compare Anderson to Wilson in the way they can impact a game.

Tom Wilson Washington Capitals
Josh Anderson’s play reminds many of how Tom Wilson plays. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This is why the Canadiens were thrilled to have Anderson join them. Outside of Wilson, who comes to mind that plays the game the way Anderson does? It’s a very short list. While other Canadiens’ players are getting the attention and deservedly so, Anderson’s impact has helped the Canadiens reach this Stanley Cup Final.

Anderson Should Thrive Against the Lightning

This series is exactly why having Anderson on your side is a good thing. Recall he was on the Blue Jackets when they pulled off perhaps the greatest upset in NHL History when the Lightning were swept.

Anderson played a physical role in that series and gave the Lightning fits. He impacted the series using his unique combination of size and strength. The Lightning had no answers for the Blue Jackets then.

And while the Lightning are the defending champions and in a much better place to play a physical game, they still must account for where Anderson is at all times. Make one mistake with him and he can alter the outcome of a game. There won’t be any surprises here given his previous experience playing them.

Truly Beyond the Box Score

On the surface, Anderson and Domi finished with the same number of points. However it’s clear that Anderson has had a much more dramatic positive effect to this point. Anderson’s presence makes his teammates better and instills confidence. Domi did start to improve near the end of the season, but never reached the level that Anderson did impacting a game.

While we cannot determine a clear winner of this trade yet, it’s obvious the Canadiens have gotten exactly what they wanted out of Anderson so far. Just one season in, he and the rest of his teammates sit just four wins away from the top of the mountain in the NHL.

When it comes to Anderson, we must look beyond the box score. His presence alone gives these Canadiens a different feel about them. That’s what will make this series closer than many will realize.

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