New York Rangers: The Lias Andersson Conundrum

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 06: Lias Andersson #50 of the New York Rangers skates against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on November 6, 2018 in New York City. The New York Rangers won 5-3. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Earlier this season, the New York Rangers had trouble finding the right place in the lineup for Filip Chytil.   Now, they have those same issues with Lias Andersson…with some different implications.

When the New York Rangers season began, Filip Chytil was expected to grab a big role right away after his terrific rookie year with Hartford. Difficulties arose when coach David Quinn began struggling to find ice time for the 19-year old and Chytil played long stretches on the fourth line.

During the time spent there, Chytil skated most often with Cody McLeod, a player not known for his skill or scoring ability. This stunted his ability to put up goals and assists, and gave off the impression that Chytil was not ready for the NHL just yet.

However, his underlying numbers showed that he was playing rather well given the circumstances. He would show off his skill in flashes, creating scoring chances and playing tenaciously with and without the puck.  There was an expectation that once Chytil scored or got a chance to play with better players for longer than nine minutes a night, things would change.

And change, they did!  Filip Chytil scored his first goal of the season, and never looked back, potting four more in his next four games and essentially cementing himself in the top six.  Ironically, Chytil’s promotion to the top six came only after injuries to Pavel Buchnevich and Mats Zuccarello, rather than a conscious decision to move him up. No matter what the reason was, it was better late than never.

How About Andersson?

Now, this same issue extends to Lias Andersson. Andersson has found himself struggling much the same as his young teammate Chytil. Playing frequently with fourth line players and getting fourth line minutes makes life very difficult for a skilled youngster looking for a permanent lineup spot. Even in the Ottawa game when he scored his first goal of the season, he only played 8:30, all at even strength.

Perhaps the solution is the same.  Move Andersson up in the lineup where he will find it easier to score and then watch the floodgates open.  This strategy shouldn’t be a mystery to Quinn as Chytil and Andersson should never have seen fourth line minutes at all.  However, moving players up and down in the lineup is tricky, especially with five natural centers on the roster.

In his limited ice time, Andersson has not quite given the impression that he can replicate Chytil’s impressive offensive output.  He has worked on faceoffs,, improving his winning percentage from 40% to over 50% this season.  While he is a tenacious forechecker, other than his semi-breakaway against the Flyers Friday afternoon, Andersson has struggled to make much of an offensive on-ice impact. Even his first goal of the season was an ugly one as a Ryan Strome shot hit him and bounced into the net.

Perhaps he is just not quite as far along developmentally as Chytil.  Just because he was a higher draft pick does not necessarily mean his development should or will take less time. However, for someone who was drafted on the premise that he was NHL ready at that time, this has been a slightly disappointing developmental arc culminating in a less than impressive first true NHL stint.

Andersson’s Future

Signs currently point to Andersson’s best interest being served returning to the Hartford Wolfpack until some trades are made.  One thing is clear, the Rangers are committed to him this season. He played in his tenth game of the season on Saturday.  In doing so, this season counts against his entry level contract.  If there was any doubt, he would have been sent to Hartford so they could slide that contract for one year.

Though Chytil may have benefited from his fourth line time, or at least made the best of it, Andersson seems like someone who needs better opportunity. Perhaps a Namestnikov or Vesey trade somewhere down the road will create this opportunity for him.

A top nine spot and a goal may be all Andersson needs to jump start his NHL career and get him to stick like Chytil did. It hasn’t quite come along for him in that way and it remains to be seen if scoring that first goal will be the catalyst for better things.  It isn’t panic time just yet, but it is something that the Rangers need to keep their eye on and assess with caution. Andersson’s value to the team and the future hangs in the balance here during this rebuild. This is a more important year for him than most will seem to realize.