Andersson’s Demotion Isn’t All His Fault

Despite all the high hopes when he was called up on the evening of Nov. 4, the New York Rangers announced on Dec. 28 that center Lias Andersson would be sent back down to the Hartford Wolf Pack. During his time in the NHL this season, Andersson totaled one goal and three assists on 22 shots on goal while averaging 10:47 of ice time per game.

David Quinn, first-year head coach of the Rangers, offered up praise for Andersson, but feels it’s more beneficial for him to play somewhere he’ll spend more time on the ice and developing himself:

He’s made some great progress and he’s done some good things, but we just need to see more consistency out of him. I know it’s difficult when he plays seven or eight minutes, but that’s just the situation we’re in. It didn’t make sense for him to stay here, especially with the limited practice time we’re going to have over the next three weeks. He needs to go play. Quinn as told to the New York Post.

While he originally started this season in the AHL, Andersson had the prime chance to make this the start of a breakout. Instead, he will have to spend more time in the minors. This is most certainly not a disaster for him, just a little setback. In fact, it’s supposedly a decision in the best interest of both he and the Rangers. But let’s look into the demotion. Is Andersson completely at fault or not? And why now?

Andersson’s Call-Up: Before and After

Andersson has always been viewed with high praise from Rangers brass. In fact, many were shocked when the Rangers took him seventh overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Lias Andersson
Lias Andersson, 2017 draft (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

He was up in New York for a cup of coffee at the end of 2017-18. He started this season back in the AHL after training camp, as the Rangers chose to keep the likes of Brett Howden and Filip Chytil up instead. But after Howden went down with an upper-body injury, Andersson was officially back in blue.

In his re-debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 6, he posted three shots on goal in about 12 minutes of ice time, but hope was still present that he’d slowly but surely turn into a significant team member. But that game ended up being the only one Howden missed.

Andersson found himself in a tough situation, trying to make the most out of less ice time with Howden’s quick return, and the return of others, bumping him down the pecking order. It doesn’t help that he is on a team that, while rebuilding, is chock full of talent at center, including Howden, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and recent call-up Boo Nieves.

Bigger Degree of Fault: Andersson or Gorton & Quinn?

Andersson’s numbers, minutes and play for the 21 games he participated in this season show he does have stuff to work on. And maybe that’s where a move back to Hartford can help him. He can get more playing time in a place where he’s proven to be dominant and continue to work into a player that perfectly fits with Quinn’s vision.

Lias Andersson New York Rangers
Lias Andersson, New York Rangers, Nov. 23, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yet, it’s that lack of NHL experience thus far and those limited minutes that indicate things not working out in the pros so far aren’t all his fault. Quinn has expressed disappointment in the minutes Andersson has been getting, but aren’t the likes of he and Gorton responsible for the delegation of minutes? And can another Hartford stint really help Andersson if he’s still as dominant as he’s been in the past?

Using that, and going back to the center lines, it’s obvious he would have trouble competing with Zibanejad, a clear present face of the team, and Howden, who the Rangers are correct to pick over Andersson as the face of the future. As long as Hayes continues to produce, and if he’s not dealt by the deadline, then Andersson’s path this season gets harder.

This leaves he and Nieves with a question for the franchise: do you give Andersson the fourth line with limited playing time? Or do you let him play more in the minors and try him again in the NHL later?

Why Demote Andersson Now and Not Earlier?

Obviously with the recent demotion of Andersson, the Rangers’ answer to that previous question was to move the 20-year-old back down. But then it opens up another query: why make the move now and not around the time Howden came back? Yes, the Rangers may have been banged up at forward, but they could have gotten another year on Andersson’s entry-level deal.

Lias Andersson New York Rangers
Lias Andersson, New York Rangers, Nov. 23, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One possible guess, outside of injuries, is that Rangers brass had confidence he could have made the fourth line work or that he’d be able to snap into it quickly, similar to what happened to Chytil. Some felt Chytil should have been demoted in the early part of the season, but the Rangers had faith and kept him around. A couple of months and a points streak in November later, and Chytil is a welcomed member of the team.

There are those out there who want the Rangers to be done with Andersson after what he’s posted thus far, even before he got promoted this season. But to say that is ridiculous. He’s still young and with a lot to learn, and an NHL player cannot be judged on less than half a season worth of games. Andersson will get a chance to rebound soon enough.