The expectations for the New York Rangers’ first round picks in this year’s draft are sky high. Without a first round pick since Brady Skjei, there is pressure on Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil to perform well, and quickly. It is imperative that the Rangers handle their development correctly.
The New York Rangers made a splash leading up to the NHL entry draft by trading their top line center, Derek Stepan. Part of the return from the Arizona Coyotes was the 7th overall pick in this year’s draft.
The Rangers then used that pick to select Lias Andersson from HV71, in Sweden. Along with Filip Chytil, selected later at 21st overall, there are already high expectations on Andersson.
The Rangers don’t expect Chytil, being one of the youngest players selected, to make the jump to the NHL next season. He will most likely return to play in his native Czech Republic.
The Bright Lights of Broadway
However, the same cannot be said of Andersson. One of his assets is his touted “NHL-ready” frame, along with his work ethic and strong two-way game. These traits have led to speculation that the organization may expect to have him on the Rangers’ roster on opening night.
Fairly or not, the spotlight will shine brighter on Andersson due to his status as a top-10 first round pick. This is further magnified by the fact that he is part of an Original Six organization. Lastly, being the Rangers’ first round pick after a long drought will undoubtedly lead to the mindset that he needs to be a success.
However, instead of trying to push Andersson into succeeding, the Rangers need to ensure he doesn’t fail. To do so, the organization must do right by Andersson, not only because that’s what’s best for him but ultimately what’s best for the franchise.
The Center Situation
With the departure of Stepan and Oscar Lindberg, the Rangers now have a void to fill at center. This is yet another factor that may push Andersson into playing in the NHL sooner rather than later.
The Rangers, so far, have not made any significant moves to fill this void. They have signed David Desharnais but he projects to be no more than the fourth line center.
The organization has yet to pull the trigger on a deal to bring in another top-six center. They appear to be content with banking on Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes to take the next step in their development.
This leaves the third line center job open. If the slot is not filled from an external source, the Rangers have little choice but to use an internal option.
Although J.T. Miller may be considered for the role, he has more often been deployed on the wing for the Rangers.
Looking at the organization’s depth chart, there aren’t many other players who fit the bill.
The Future is Now?
Due to the manner in which he was acquired, Andersson can be unfairly viewed as Stepan’s replacement. Furthermore, his draft prognosis of having top/middle-six center potential only reinforces this correlation.
When the puck drops this October, Lias Andersson will only be a few days from turning 19. So far, he has only played a season and a half in the highest level of the Swedish Hockey League. Andersson has yet to play significant time on the smaller North American ice.
Naturally, Andersson himself would love nothing more than to play in the NHL next season:
"“That’s my goal to start with the team the first year,” Andersson stated. “It’s all about winning at this level. It’s not junior hockey anymore; its pro hockey and it’s all about winning. I’m coming to camp with a mindset to make the team and I gotta work for it.”"
However, the Rangers shouldn’t give him the job just because they feel pressured to do so. It is a fine line to walk, because if he is ready, his age shouldn’t be a factor. However, they should also not award the spot to him because they feel they have no other options.
Patience is a Virtue
If Andersson has truly earned his spot on the roster, then the team is obligated to include him on it. Luckily, the Rangers organization seems to follow the philosophy that the players who have earned spots should have them. One only needs to look back to when Anthony Duclair forced his way onto the team out of training camp.
Otherwise, the Rangers should swallow their pride and acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with Andersson playing elsewhere. His SHL rights are currently held by Frolunda, where his father and some guy by the name of Henrik Lundqvist once played together.
Alternatively, since he was drafted out of Sweden, he could play for the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. That may be a better option, which would allow him to get acclimated to the narrower North American ice.
The 2017-18 NHL Season
Once a player plays ten games in the NHL, the first year of his Entry Level Contract is counted. Many teams take advantage of this by letting their prospects play a nine game NHL “trial”.
Because of this, my gut feeling is that the Rangers will have Andersson on the NHL roster on opening night of their 2017-18 season. Another wrinkle is that the injury to Jesper Fast opens yet another slot in the roster. The Rangers probably feel more comfortable in letting Andersson play his first few games on the wing as he acclimates.
If the Rangers are determined on having Andersson play in the NHL next season, they should also be prepared to send him down if he is not yet ready. Even if they keep him past the aforementioned ten game threshold, they must be willing to reassign him if necessary, much as they did with Duclair.
Lias Andersson, for better or worse is now a key face of the Rangers franchise moving forward. They owe it not only to him, but themselves to ensure he develops correctly. They can’t afford to make impulsive or shortsighted decisions just to get him to the show faster and declare him a success.