When the New York Rangers selected Lias Andersson with the seventh selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, analysts immediately compared him to Jesper Fast. While Fast is an excellent defensive forward, he has never scored more than 13 goals or had more than 33 points in a season. Ideally, the team’s highest draft pick since 2004 would be able to produce more than that, but now three years later, the team can only hope Andersson can play as well as Fast has for the Blueshirts.
Andersson, now 21 years old, was sent from the Rangers to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. After a brief stint there, he demanded a trade and left the team. The team then suspended him.
The problem for Andersson is that his decision is not only hurting the Rangers, but hurting him too. He has not played well in the NHL, producing just three goals and six assists in 66 NHL games thus far in his career. This year, while playing on the fourth line he had no goals with one assist and was minus-eight in 17 games.
Andersson was unhappy with his role on the fourth line but did nothing to earn a promotion. Even tough guy Michael Haley managed to score a goal while playing on the fourth line. Brendan Smith, a defenseman turned fourth-line forward has three goals and three assists this season.
Over three seasons with Hartford, Andersson has 15 goals and 24 assists in 74 games but is minus-33. This season he had four goals, one assist and was minus-nine in 13 games. Despite playing on top lines with the Wolf Pack, his numbers don’t exactly jump off the page.
Andersson also has to understand that New York will not trade him simply because he wants them to. They need to get valuable players or draft picks in exchange for him. If he doesn’t showcase himself in Hartford, it’s less likely that he will be traded. Other first-round picks in the same situation include forwards Josh Ho-Sang of the New York Islanders and Jesse Puljujärvi of the Edmonton Oilers.
Neither one has been traded; both are playing hockey again but not in the NHL. Ho-Sang is in the AHL and Puljujärvi is in Finland.
Andersson’s decision to leave the team also reveals a sense of entitlement. Igor Shesterkin was one of the top goaltending prospects in all of hockey at the start of the season but the Blueshirts sent him to Hartford to start the season. He didn’t complain or leave the team. He played well and earned a spot on the Rangers’ roster. Defenseman Joey Keane is an AHL All-Star but he isn’t complaining about not getting called up.
The most impressive thing about Andersson to date is how early he was selected in the draft, but if he thinks that alone guarantees him a role as a top-six forward for the Rangers, he’s wrong. Hockey is a performance-based sport and so far he hasn’t performed well enough to stick in the NHL.
Perhaps Andersson should talk to Chris Kreider, another player selected by the Rangers in the first round of the draft. He made his debut with the team in the postseason, scoring five goals in 18 games. However, the following season, as a 21-year-old, Kreider spent time in the AHL and was often a healthy scratch for the Blueshirts. Rather than complaining, he improved in the AHL and earned his way onto the Rangers’ roster the following season, then had a breakout year.
As for Andersson, it remains to be seen if he will be able to resolve his issues with the Rangers, but even if he doesn’t, it’s in the best interest of his career to make a return to Hartford at some point. At 21 years old, Andersson can still have a successful career as a hockey player. He is at a crossroads in his career, but the future is up to him.
While he has yet to reach his potential, Andersson has more than enough talent to become an NHL player. He has grit, and has shown a few flashes of offensive skill. Even if he doesn’t have the opportunity to play in the NHL immediately upon returning, he can still earn a spot on an NHL roster by playing well in the AHL.
Sitting out for a little while may be good for his physical and mental health, but quitting on the Rangers and not communicating with the team is not helping Andersson’s trade stock. If he wants a trade, he can earn it by playing well.