Prospect development in the NHL is not exactly rocket science. The New York Rangers need to be careful to not mess up Lias Andersson’s development in a meaningless season.
The prospect is the life’s blood of an NHL franchise. A unknown quantity with years of hockey in front of them is a blank slate for an organization. There is a true art form to balancing the fit of a player into a system while still letting the talent flourish. In the case of the New York Rangers, it has truly been a series of hit or miss.
For every J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes there is a Dylan McIlrath and an Emerson Etem. The simple point being, there is no one way to make sure a prospect pans out. All a team can do is put a prospect in a position to succeed and hope the player takes the opportunity.
In recent years, the New York Rangers have brought Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich to the NHL level to varying degrees of success. However, there was a recurring theme for all three players: development is not a linear path. All three players were bounced around the lineup during their respective NHL tenures.
In the case of Lias Andersson, the Rangers need to be careful with one of their top prospects. The Swede was drafted in the top ten of the entry draft, the most accessible way to acquire elite talent in the NHL. New York cannot afford to botch Andersson’s development.
Rock and a hard place
The New York Rangers had two picks in the 2017 NHL entry draft. With the seventh pick they took Andersson, with the 21st, they selected Filip Chytil. At the time, Chytil was considered an off the board reach. However, a year later, Chytil is primed to jump from the AHL right to the Rangers top six. In theory, Andersson was supposed to be the player making the jump and not Chytil.
This presents an issue down the middle for the Rangers. New York currently has seven players that have played center at the NHL level under team control for the 2018-2019 season. In all likelihood this means that one of Chytil and Andersson will need to move to the wing. In the case that the Rangers insist on keeping both down the middle, it will present a true conundrum.
Would Andersson benefit more from playing on a skilled fourth line for 13 minutes a night in the NHL? Or would 19 minutes a night on the top line of the Hartford Wolf Pack be more beneficial? In 25 games with the Wolf Pack last season, Andersson posted 14 points. According to Rob Vollman of ESPN insider and the NHL, an AHL point is worth about .47 of an NHL point.
So, scaled out over an entire 82 game season, this would translate to 45.92 NHL points. That figure would have been good enough for third on last year’s team. However, that was in a far larger role in the AHL than Andersson is going to have with the Rangers should he make the team.
Ultimately, I think this decision will come down to David Quinn’s vision for the team’s fourth line. If Quinn feels obligated to role with Cody McLeod as a regular, Andersson would be better served in the AHL. Playing a nothing player like McLeod along side a talented prospect benefits nobody, least of all Andersson. Buchnevich inexplicably had to play with the grinder last season, and McLeod couldn’t even put the puck in an open net.
On the other hand, if Quinn wants to role with a true four lines, there is a recipe for Andersson staying with the Rangers out of camp. If the Swede were flanked by Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast, that would serve as an interesting and at least competent fourth line. Although neither Vesey or Fast are going to light up the score sheet, they are decent NHL regulars.
Or, if the Rangers want to move along at a cautious pace, Andersson can light it up in the AHL for a few months. There really is no sense in rushing the Swede along for a meaningless season. New York is going to struggle at pretty much every facet of the game due to its defense. Shoehorning a quality prospect into a limited role on a bad team is a recipe for stunted growth.
But, if Andersson plays well in the preseason and has a good training camp, he should start in the NHL. In the right role with the right line mates, Andersson will get the most out of the 2018-2019 season. For a rebuilding team, prospects taking meaningful strides in development is the most important goal.