Devils’ Anderson on Cusp of NHL Breakthrough

The New Jersey Devils had a handful of prospects play in the NHL in 2019-20. The results were mixed for some and better for others. One player who falls into the latter category is Joey Anderson. He only played in 18 games this season but totaled seven points (four goals, three assists), which comes out to a 32-point pace over 82 games.  

This stint with the Devils, which came in the final stretch of games before the suspension of play due to the coronavirus, wasn’t Anderson’s first, either. He played in 34 games in 2018-19, but there was a noticeable difference in his performance this time around. Here’s a look back at his season and why he’s on the verge of being an NHL-regular. 

A Year Makes a Difference for Anderson

Anderson had a pretty stellar junior career. He captured three medals with Team USA at the World Junior Championships — bronze at the 2016 U-18 WJC, gold at the 2017 U-20 WJC, and bronze at the 2018 U-20 WJC. He also won a National Championship with the University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA) in 2018. 

Anderson wasn’t an insignificant part of those teams, either. He was the captain for Team USA at the 2018 WJC and was Minnesota-Duluth’s fourth-leading scorer as a sophomore on their NCAA championship team. He signed his entry-level contract soon after winning with Minnesota-Duluth and made his NHL debut in the first part of the 2018-19 season. 

Joey Anderson Binghamton Devils
Joey Anderson’s improvement this seasons started with the Binghamton Devils (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That season was a mixed bag for Anderson. He broke his ankle on a freak play in late November, causing him to miss 2-3 months of action. That certainly set him back a bit, but it was also clear he needed more time to develop, even when he returned from the injury. 

Fortunately, he had the opportunity to work on his game to start 2019-20. Anderson began the season in the AHL with the Binghamton Devils. It may have taken a while for him to get going, but once he did, he became one of Binghamton’s best players. At the time of his call-up on Feb. 3, he had 34 points in 44 games in the AHL. He may have only played in 18 games this season, but his underlying numbers are pretty encouraging: 

Corsi share (CF%)47.45%42.14%
Expected goals share (xGF%)45.76%52.16%
Scoring chances share (SCF%)`45.15%45.81%
High-danger chances share (HDCF%)48.53%55.16%

There’s a bit of a weird mix of things going on in the table. But there’s a general improvement in Anderson’s five-on-five, on-ice stats. Despite his Corsi share (CF%) dropping to 42.14%, fewer of the shot attempts he gave up were high-danger, quality looks (xGF%, HDCF%). 

Related: Devils’ Palmieri a Model of Scoring Consistency

Another stat that shows Anderson taking a step forward is goals above replacement (GAR), which shows how many goals a player adds to his team relative to a replacement-level player. His GAR last season was minus-3.1, ranked second-worst on the Devils. At the halt of play on March 12, it stood at plus-2.5, ranked 12th on the team. So it’s clear he’s made some progress in his time between NHL stints, and it’s beginning to translate with the big club. 

What’s Next for Anderson

It would’ve been interesting to see how Anderson fared in the Devils’ final 13 games. Maybe there’s the slightest chance some of them get played, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. However, he played in enough games to notice some trends and where he may fit in the lineup. One trend being he found some success with Travis Zajac as his center. That’s no surprise since they’re both defensively responsible forwards, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see them as linemates moving forward. 

But at this point in his career, Zajac will need wingers who can score, because his offense all but dried up in 2019-20. Fortunately, it looks like Anderson could be a winger who can do just that. He was an efficient scorer, averaging 1.55 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, compared to 0.78 a season ago. That’s a significant upward trend, and it’s the type of scoring rate you’d like to see from a middle-six winger too. 

Joey Anderson #49, New Jersey Devils
Joey Anderson is on his way to being an NHL regular (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With that said, I wouldn’t bet on Anderson being a prolific scorer in the NHL. But he definitely has some offensive punch to him. He has an above-average shot, and he’s not afraid to get into the dirty areas around the net and create havoc. Once he hits his prime, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him average around 40 points per 82 games. 

As for Anderson’s defensive prowess, it’s the best part of his game. He was a top penalty-killer during his junior career and in the NCAA. That continued this season in Binghamton, and he saw immediate time on the kill when called up to the NHL. There’s no doubt that he’ll have a spot there next season, too, especially since the Devils traded Blake Coleman — one of their top penalty killers — to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Related: Devils Benefited From a Goose Invasion

Even if it takes until October and the 2020-21 season to see hockey again, I’d bet on Anderson remaining in the NHL. There’s no doubt he has the tools to be an effective, two-way forward. He might not be a first or second-liner, but the Devils have needed scoring depth for more than a few seasons now. There’ll be a spot for him in the bottom six next season, and his 2019-20 NHL stint showed he’s ready to do it consistently. 

* * *

Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, GAR from Evolving Hockey