On Dec. 21, forward Lias Andersson requested a trade from the New York Rangers and, shortly after, was suspended by the team for leaving their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. Because the request came right around the time of the league’s holiday roster freeze, the trade market has been fairly quiet so far, but will undoubtedly gather steam in the coming weeks.
This wasn’t exactly a shocking move by Andersson as he and the Rangers haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye for a while now. Barring a drastic change, the 21-year-old will be traded before the February deadline, or sit out for the rest of the season. While plenty of teams will be interested, the Pittsburgh Penguins need to steer clear of this situation.
Andersson was the seventh-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and has struggled to find his footing since coming over from the Swedish Hockey League. He’s scored just nine points in 66 career NHL games, including only one assist in 17 games this season. With AHL Hartford, he’s tallied 15 goals and 39 points in 74 games over the last three seasons.
Andersson’s situation is similar to that of Jesse Puljujarvi’s with the Edmonton Oilers. A restricted free agent last offseason, Puljujarvi is another high-end draft pick who’s struggled to adjust to the NHL. He and Edmonton were nowhere near close on contract negotiations, so he’s playing in Europe once again. While teams have been interested in acquiring his rights, the Oilers won’t budge for a weak deal.
The Penguins did get involved in a similar scenario this past offseason when they acquired defenseman John Marino from the Oilers. Marino told the Oilers he wouldn’t sign there and the team was in danger of losing his draft rights, so the Penguins snagged him for a late-round pick. While that trade has already paid huge dividends, the risk/reward in the Andersson scenario leans much heavier on the risky side.
Penguins Need Help Now
The Penguins will absolutely be scouring the trade market for some forward depth over the next few months. However, they’re going to be looking for immediate help to make a playoff run. There’s still time for Andersson to develop into a strong middle-six forward, especially playing alongside other talented forwards in Pittsburgh, but right now he’s just not there.
Over the next few weeks, the best thing the Penguins can do is get healthy. No trade acquisition will impact the team more than getting back a healthy Sidney Crosby or Brian Dumoulin. Still, in order to stick around with the big boys of the Metropolitan Division, the team needs to add some more depth.
General manager Jim Rutherford nearly landed Jason Zucker last offseason in a deal that would’ve sent Phil Kessel to the Minnesota Wild. Rumors are flying around that Rutherford still wants Zucker and is still in contact with the Wild to acquire him. Unfortunately, a broken fibula will hold Zucker out until at least late January. Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings is another rumored option for the Penguins and several other contenders around the league.
Either of those players would have an immediate impact in the Penguins’ middle-six and give the team some consistent secondary scoring. They’re both 27 years old and established NHL goalscorers. Andersson may be the better long-term bet, but that won’t help the Penguins make another run at the Stanley Cup this season.
Andersson’s Price Doesn’t Match Value
No one will blame the Rangers for not settling on a trade just to wipe their hands clean of this mess. Andersson still has some sort of trade value and teams never want to give up on a former first-round pick at just 21 years old. While some team will likely create a good enough package to meet that value, the Penguins simply don’t have the pieces to do so.
The 6-foot-1 forward hasn’t had much of a chance to develop yet. Andersson has continually been bounced around between the NHL and AHL levels. When he’s with the big club, he’s averaged just 10:33 of ice time in his career, and 9:33 this season.
Andersson really hasn’t been given much of a chance to prove himself alongside the team’s top players like Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad. Over the last three seasons, Andersson’s most common linemates include players such as Ryan Strome, Brendan Lemieux, and Jimmy Vesey. He never established great chemistry with anyone at the NHL level and hasn’t been placed in a situation that can help him develop.
As mentioned, the Rangers aren’t going to toss Andersson to the curb for a minimal return. He was a top-10 draft pick in 2017, taken around the same time as players such as Elias Pettersson and Cody Glass. It’s too early to throw the “bust” label at Andersson because he hasn’t even accumulated a full NHL season’s worth of games yet; the potential is still there.
The Penguins already have a thin prospect pool and will need to use the next few drafts to build that back up. Again, if the team shoots for a Zucker or Toffoli-level player, it’s already going to cost them some of those higher-end picks.
While Andersson is a solid trade target for a team that’s willing to give him time to develop, the Penguins don’t have that luxury right now. They’re in the thick of a tight Metropolitan Division race and can’t afford to give meaningful minutes to a player that’s not ready to handle them.