The disappointing part of the Rangers rebuild

This is Lias Andersson in happier times after scoring his first NHL goal in late ’17-18. The Rangers have mismanaged him like past first round picks. AP Photo via Sporting News courtesy Getty Images

On Sunday, the Rangers made two moves. They placed Micheal Haley on waivers. The second one was sending down Lias Andersson to Hartford. Tim Gettinger was recalled.

Sadly, both were expected. Haley had a couple of bad games in a row due to taking penalties. So, they punished the veteran. As for Andersson, he’s been in jail since the start of the season. No matter what he did in training camp to draw praise from coach David Quinn, he was behind Ranger darling Brett Howden. That left him on a mismatched fourth line getting inconsistent minutes.

This isn’t how you handle a first round draft pick that you took over two years ago. Whether you are in his corner or have already given up like the organization seems to have, Andersson has been butchered. Whether or not the 21-year old center can recover depends on his character. It’s being severely tested right now.

It started in his draft year. After he was taken seventh overall as part of a trade that included defenseman Tony DeAngelo coming back from the Coyotes for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta, Andersson was only in Sweden with Frolunda for 22 games. He was having success back home posting seven goals and seven assists.

That same year, he proved himself with a very good Under 20 World Junior Championship where he led Sweden to a silver medal. Andersson posted six goals and an assist. The end of the tournament was highlighted by a frustrated Andersson tossing his silver medal over the glass into the crowd. While it was critiqued by hypocritical Canadian media who wouldn’t settle for second best at anything, it was seen as a positive in these parts.

Here was a player who hated losing. That sounded like the kind of person you’d want to have as part of your team’s rebuild. Andersson was the team captain for his country and represented them well. Somewhat interestingly, Canucks fifth overall selection Elias Pettersson also had seven points (5-2-7) in the same tournament while playing with Andersson. The Rangers had him at the top of their draft board. They weren’t wrong. Pettersson has gone on to become the best player from the 2017 NHL Draft by winning a Calder and being a point-per-game producer for the Canucks.

There haven’t been many instant success stories from that draft. Devils top pick Nico Hischier is a good two-way center. But he hasn’t fulfilled lofty expectations. Flyers second pick Nolan Patrick continues to be plagued by injuries. The top players from that first round are Pettersson along with defensemen Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar.

However, it hasn’t been a huge draft so far. Andersson isn’t the only one who’s struggled. Casey Mittlestadt, who was selected by Buffalo right after, has yet to establish himself consistently. The best of the rest so far are Martin Necas, who wasn’t rushed by Carolina. Nick Suzuki looks promising for Montreal, who acquired him from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade.

Interestingly, Rangers number 21 overall pick Filip Chytil ranks seventh in points from that draft with 33 (18-15-33) over 93 career games. As you can observe, that’s hardly consistent. However, the Rangers have handled the skilled center better than Andersson. They let him develop for over half a season with Hartford. He came up and finished the season playing nine games with the Rangers.

The following year, Chytil stayed up with the team and had mixed results as a 19-year old. With Quinn opting to play him mostly on the wing, Chytil had some success. He scored a few highlight reel goals due to his skill set. He wound up with 11 goals and 12 assists for a decent total of 23 points over 75 games. However, like most young players that age, there were some hiccups. After being shifted to his natural position of center following the trade of Kevin Hayes, he really struggled. The result was a tough end to the ’18-19 season where he finished minus-22. The scoring dried up.

Handpicked by Quinn in the past training camp to become the team’s number two center, Chytil continued to struggle. He was so disappointing that he didn’t make the Opening Night roster. Instead, they sent him back to the Wolf Pack. It was the best thing that could’ve happened. Rather than sulk, the 20-year old went down and worked hard to produce nine points in nine games.

With a mysterious “upper body” injury to Mika Zibanejad that continues to keep him out of action, Chytil came back up and immediately showed a renewed confidence by scoring goals in his first two games. Thus far, he’s been a different player by netting six goals and a helper in nine contests. All while forming solid chemistry with Pavel Buchnevich (2-13-15) and Chris Kreider (5-5-10).

While there have been some real bright spots in the second year of the rebuild under Quinn, including promising rookie defensemen Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek along with 2019 second overall prize Kaapo Kakko, there have been two disappointments. Despite being given every chance to succeed by the coaching staff, Howden hasn’t improved. Sure. He’s a good skater, who the team trusts to kill penalties and is okay on face-offs. But he’s getting close to 16 minutes and remains stuck on four points (2-2-4).

While the young 21-year old Canadian has been given every opportunity even though he wasn’t impressive during preseason, you have Andersson who now finds himself the odd man out. He wasn’t getting enough consistent ice time due to Quinn’s penchant for rolling three lines, which left the fourth line an afterthought. Even if he outplayed Howden in camp, it didn’t matter. It was like the organization had predetermined that Andersson would center the fourth line and Howden the third due to being given more rope.

It just hasn’t been a fair process. They messed up Andersson’s first year and didn’t do much better in ’18-19. He got into 42 games last year and went 4-2-6 with a minus-13 rating and 29 penalty minutes. At least he played. In the 17 games he got into this season, it’s been purgatory for Andersson. He served some time on the penalty kill, but was basically averaging seven minutes at even strength. Barely enough to establish himself. The results have been predictable. One assist and a minus-eight.

In 66 total NHL games, Andersson has only three goals and six assists for nine points with 33 PIM and a minus-20 rating. Of course, he has to become a better player if he wants to make the National as Kevin Weekes calls it. It’s very hard to succeed when you’re given little ice time and linemates like Haley, Greg McKegg and Brendan Smith, who’s given a good account of himself so far.

It just isn’t ideal. The Rangers have failed Andersson. A player they took over Mittlestadt, Necas, Suzuki and Robert Thomas. For those impatient fans that have thrown in the towel, there haven’t been too many success stories from the 2017 Draft. Remember when everyone raved about Nashville prospect Eeli Tolvanen? He’s struggling with AHL Milwaukee. Things sure can change.

Is it over for Andersson in New York City? That chapter hasn’t been written yet. It’s up to him to go down and prove himself. He’s now in the same situation as Chytil. The problem is if he had success and comes back up, the pressure will be on. Eventually, Zibanejad will return. Even if the organization is being about as truthful as the Warren Commission. Howden will still be here. So too will Ryan Strome, who’s been brilliant while benefiting from centering wunderkind Artemiy Panarin. Where would this roster be without him? Don’t answer.

What even further hurts Andersson’s long-term future with the Blueshirts are potential steals such as Cornell’s Morgan Barron and recent second round draft pick Karl Henriksson. It appears that things look bleak. Unless Andersson can find his confidence and establish himself in the second part of the season.

This has happened before. Manny Malhotra went through it when the organization was in ruins. An ugly history that saw the checking center fans loved go from 8-8-16 his age 18 year to 12 total points over the next 77 games between ’99-00 and ’00-01. After going 7-6-13 in 56 games during ’01-02, he was traded to Dallas with Barrett Heistein for Roman Lyashenko and Martin Rucinsky. A trade that turned heartbreaking for the Rangers due to Lyashenko committing suicide on July 5, 2003. Crazy stuff.

It would be five years later when the organization was hit with the terrible tragedy of former 2007 first round pick Alexei Cherepanov, who suffered from a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy. He passed out following a shift on the OMSK Avangard bench next to former star Ranger Jaromir Jagr, who immediately called for medical attention. Had they had a working defibrillator, he could’ve been saved. There was no ambulance at the arena. Eventually, it arrived and Cherepanov was transferred to the hospital where he died tragically.

The 11-Year Anniversary of his death was on Oct. 13 last month. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long since Cherepanov passed away. I remember seeing it flash across NHL Network at the bottom of the screen while my family viewed a feature on Mark Messier. I was stunned. We later left for the game that night and they paid tribute. It was so sad.

What this has to do with Andersson is nothing really. Just that history hasn’t been too kind to the Rangers when it comes to drafting and properly developing first round picks. Nothing was worse than ’99 with former GM Neil Smith taking Pavel Brendl fourth overall and packaging future first line center Marc Savard to swap up in the first round with Calgary and select Jamie Lundmark. Another player who was mishandled.

There have been other first round failures like Dan Blackburn, Hugh Jessiman and Al Montoya. That’s why we’ve learned to appreciate Marc Staal, Chris Kreider and former Rangers Michael Del Zotto and JT Miller.

There just haven’t been many success stories with this team. It’s why even if you’re overly optimistic, you should be more cautious. What have they ever proven? They’re lucky they won the lottery and landed Kakko and Panarin chose them over the Islanders, Panthers and Blue Jackets. Otherwise, they’d be a long way off.

Let’s also be honest about the big elephant in the room. Henrik Lundqvist is done being a reliable consistent starting goalie. His contract is more of a issue than anyone wants to admit. So is his attitude. Igor Shesterkin remains in Hartford while dominating the AHL following impressive play in the KHL. He turns 24 before Christmas.

If this were truly a rebuild, Lundqvist would be forced out to Calgary or San Jose, who each can use a proven veteran goalie. It would be left to Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

It’s not. They think they can compete for the playoffs. That shows you how delusional and misguided they are. It never has been realistic. The goal should be the continued development of the young players including the forgotten Andersson. They have failed him.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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2 Responses to The disappointing part of the Rangers rebuild

  1. hasan4978 says:

    You know I did think once they brought in JD and signed Panarin, that they were going to pull the plug on the rebuild prematurely. I agree they need another year or two at least to let the kids play.


    • Derek Felix says:

      I feel like you have to put young players in position to succeed. They haven’t done that with Lias. It remains to be seen if he can recover. Devils did the right thing. As hard as it had to be. Blackwood is thd guy.


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