Rangers organization to blame for Lias Andersson mess

Lias Andersson requested a trade. David Quinn and the Rangers organization failed him. AP Photo courtesy Getty Images

In a unsurprising move, Lias Andersson has requested a trade from the Rangers. That news was revealed by TSN insider Darren Dreger earlier this afternoon.

It wasn’t long ago that the Rangers swung a trade sending popular center Derek Stepan and good backup goalie Antti Raanta over to the Coyotes in exchange for Tony DeAngelo and the rights to their seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. The deal was made by GM Jeff Gorton on June 23, 2017.

When it was their turn to pick, the Rangers selected Andersson out of Smogen, Sweden. Thought to be a hard working tenacious center with a strong work ethic, some observers wondered if they took him too high. There are always Monday morning quarterbacks that second guess such key decisions.

When it comes to Gordie Clark, he doesn’t have the best track record in the first round. But in that same round, he later took Filip Chytil at number 21. A young promising center that’s worked out so far. So, that draft isn’t a total fail.

When it comes to drafting and development, the Rangers aren’t the best at being patient. Their handling of Andersson his first pro year didn’t help. Even though he put up good numbers with Frolunda by tallying seven goals and seven assists for 14 points in 22 games in the Swedish Hockey League, it was probably a mistake to bring him over to AHL Hartford so quickly.

Part of the thinking probably had to do with Andersson impressing during the 2018 IIHF Under 20 World Junior Championship. He captained Sweden to a silver medal. During that tournament, he scored six goals and had an assist to total seven points.

However, it was his reaction to receiving his silver medal that went viral. Upset that his team lost, he tossed the medal over the glass causing hypocritical TSN analyst Ray Ferraro to criticize him. Had he done that as a Canadian player after losing, it would’ve been universally praised. It showed a young player with a fiery side who hated losing. Isn’t that what you want?

His reaction was viewed more favorably by Rangers fans. Some even envisioned Andersson one day becoming a future captain. Instead, things started to unravel following a brief stint with the Wolf Pack at the conclusion of ’17-18. After doing alright there by going 5-9-14 in 25 games, he was recalled by the Rangers. In seven games, he scored his first NHL goal and assist.

It seemed like he was on the right path following Year One. But things would quickly change in ’18-19. His second pro year started in Hartford. This time, he wasn’t as consistent at age 20. Having gotten into 36 games, Andersson had only six goals with 14 assists for 20 points. While the production was okay on a bad roster, he also was a minus-24 with 25 penalty minutes. Expected to become a reliable two-way center, that should’ve sounded off an alarm that he wasn’t ready.

Instead of keeping him there to further develop, the Rangers organization recalled Andersson after trading Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg. What a big mistake that was. Rather than let him get ideal ice-time with Hartford, they nursed him along for the the rest of the season. Even though he showed some of the competitive spirit he had with Sweden by going back at opponents and even fighting, Andersson struggled to distinguish himself under first-year NHL coach David Quinn.

The end result was only two goals with four assists for a total of six points, 29 PIM and a minus-13 rating over 42 games. Was this really the right move for his development? Of course not. But they kept him up for good once Hayes was moved. It was a poor choice by an organization not always known for having patience like a majority of the fanbase.

In many aspects, they wasted Andersson’s second year. A no no that didn’t benefit anyone. Most of all the former first round pick they took ahead of Casey Mittlestadt (recently demoted by Buffalo), Martin Necas, Nick Suzuki and Robert Thomas. Had they chosen Chytil with the seventh pick and took Andersson 21st, there wouldn’t have been such unrealistic expectations. While Lias has recorded only nine points (3-6-9) in 66 career NHL games, Chytil has scored 20 goals with 17 assists for 37 points over 109 games.

Complicating matters, Andersson had a good training camp and impressed the coaching staff in preseason by outplaying both Chytil, who was sent down, and Quinn favorite Brett Howden. Even after Quinn praised Andersson for his improvement, he found himself on the fourth line behind Howden. From the symbolic moment where he accidentally tripped over a ridiculous camera wire (typical MSG) while being introduced at the season opener versus Winnipeg, it’s been a nightmare for the 21-year old Swede.

While Howden continued to receive more responsibility by Quinn due to familiarity, Andersson would sometimes miss shifts as games would evolve due to the coach not trusting him. There were games even when top pivot Mika Zibanejad was out that Andersson was still barely getting any regular time at all. What was even the point of playing him in 17 games if he was hardly going to crack eight minutes a night?

Quinn definitely played favorites. Not to disrespect what Howden is as a player. As a rookie, the 21-year old center played 66 games and registered six goals and 17 assists for 23 points with 14 PIM and a minus-14 last season. He started off well by showing that he could pick up points early due to his high IQ and hard work. However, he slumped badly in the second half despite continuing to receive decent ice time that included penalty killing shifts.

So far in Year Two, Howden is 3-5-8 with a minus-seven rating in 34 games. Hardly an improvement from his first year. He now is behind Zibanejad, Ryan Strome and Chytil, which makes him the team’s fourth center. In the 6-3 loss to Toronto on Friday night, he received less than eight minutes. Basically, the Lias Andersson treatment by the same coach who in some instances, barely gave Andersson six minutes.

It was no way to help a young player develop and likely hurt his confidence. They finally sent Andersson down to Hartford. It didn’t go much better. Following a promising start that even included a pair of goals with a helper in a win a couple of weeks ago, he hasn’t posted a point since and was a minus-six the past three games. The last two were ugly losses at Charlotte earlier this week. In 13 games, he is 4-1-5 with 14 PIM and a minus-nine rating.

Perhaps the recent struggles finally were the last straw. It’s painfully obvious that it’s not working out for Andersson here. By most accounts, he has a good attitude. So, that’s not the problem. The issue is how he was handled last season where he was rushed and then butchered by an inexperienced coach, who still can’t decide what his forward combinations should be with Christmas approaching.

Just ask Kaapo Kakko how he’s doing. A much higher rated prospect who looks lost under Quinn. The 2019 number two pick is 6-8-14 with a minus-13 rating in 32 games. A far cry from what they were hoping for. Most of the production has come via the power play where he’s 2-7-9. Instead of improving, Kakko has taken a step back.

While the 18-year old Finnish right wing should be fine, it has to be a bit concerning how he’s looked. Eventually, it should change. He’s too good a player for this trend to continue.

As for Andersson, it’s disappointing that we’ll never get to see what he could’ve become. Maybe if they’d handled him differently, this wouldn’t have happened. It couldn’t have helped matters that he was rumored in a trade offer for unsigned Edmonton forward Jesse Puljujarvi. Another highly thought of young player, who hasn’t exactly fulfilled expectations. The Oilers rejected the trade proposal and failed to get him signed by the December deadline. He will eventually be moving.

The only thing left to say is I wish Andersson the very best. The sad aspect is with his value so low, the Rangers won’t get much of a return. They have only themselves to blame for this mess.

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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