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Andersson putting his best foot forward in Hartford

by Bob Crawford | AHL On The Beat

After finishing last season on the New York Rangers’ roster, helping Sweden to a World Championships gold medal, and scoring two goals in the Rangers’ first preseason game, all signs for Hartford Wolf Pack center Lias Andersson seemed to be pointing toward starting the 2018-19 campaign in a Ranger jersey.

When that did not happen, and Andersson was assigned to the Wolf Pack to begin the year, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft admitted to being “a little bit disappointed,” but has quickly shaken that off and has helped the Wolf Pack to get out of the gate solidly. He was held off the scoresheet in the season opener, but then reeled off a four-game point-scoring streak to jump into the Wolf Pack team scoring lead.

“I’ve been pretty happy,” Andersson said of his start. “I think we’ve played pretty good as a team, too. Some ups and downs, but overall I think we started the season pretty good, obviously a couple of losses that we want back, but pretty good.”

One thing that Andersson, who just turned 20 years old October 13, does not equivocate on at all is whether his thoughts ever stray away from Hartford at this point.

“I don’t focus on New York at all,” he said. “I’m just focused down here on the Wolf Pack now, and this is my team, and nothing else than that. I play for the Hartford Wolf Pack, and I’m trying to do everything I can, every day, for this team.”

Wolf Pack head coach Keith McCambridge appreciates that mindset, and has been impressed by Andersson’s dedication to sharpening his game.

“Now that he’s had a chance to be with us here in Hartford, to integrate himself with the group, it’s been real good,” McCambridge said of Andersson. “His work ethic has been excellent in games. The areas that we need to work on, as we do with all players, are being addressed in both practices and games. He’s been real positive, real upbeat, and he’s been open-minded, and wanting to learn and get better every day. And those, for me, are good foundations for a player to get himself into the National Hockey League.

“First of all, players have to play. Regardless of who it is, these young players, in order to develop, we have to put them in situations where we can evaluate them, but also situations where they can grow their game, and have that belief in themselves. Lias has grasped on to playing in all different opportunities on the ice, be it when the goaltender’s pulled, or when we’re defending with a one-goal lead, and he’s excelled. Same with on the penalty kill, a strong area of his, we’ve put him in different areas on his power-play unit, to, again, grow his game. It’s a chance for him to play heavy minutes, and, as a real young man, to build that belief and that confidence, and when he gets his opportunity, that he feels like he’s been in those situations before.”

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Andersson, in turn, is happy for the chance to be depended on as a versatile contributor, and to be a part of a stellar group of young prospects in the Ranger organization.

“Just being able to play a lot of hockey and play in a lot of different situations, and to have time off the ice to hang out and work out together, and we practice hard down here too,” Andersson commented about the youngsters’ experience with the Wolf Pack. “It’s good for all of us.”

McCambridge added, “The young players, first of all, have spent some time together through development camp, spending time together working out in the summertime, and then going into (the NHL Prospects Tournament in) Traverse City, and then training camp and now here in Hartford. You can see that there’s a connection between those young players, and also an excitement, that there’s opportunities available if they come to work every day in the American Hockey League to get better, on and off the ice, that there’s chances to play in the best league in the world.”

To that end, Andersson is constantly honing his all-around game, averaging well over 20 minutes played per contest with Hartford. Having tasted of the speed which the NHL game is played, he is focusing hard on increasing the pace of his own game, both skating and in making plays, and decisions, on the ice.

“I try to work on that every day,” Andersson said. “And it can always get better, but I feel more comfortable this year than I was last year, and try just to keep my speed up in the games and work on my first three strides.

“I’m just trying to work with all the guys down here, hard on the ice and off the ice, and talk a lot with the coaches on stuff that I could do better, work on my strength in the gym and my nutrition.”

That off-ice element, particularly the concept of how much of an advantage he can give himself by being careful with his eating habits, has become a real eye-opener for Andersson.

“I haven’t really focused on off the ice, or what I’m eating, so much before,” he said. “So I just try to develop that into my game now. And I feel like it helps a lot when you do the right things off the ice. You can be more fresh the day after, if you eat the right stuff. I have New York to thank a lot for that. They’ve been helping me a lot with that. I’ve tried to focus on that this year, and I feel like I’m fresher in both my mind and my legs this year.”

The excitement of last season, particularly the seven games he logged with the Rangers at the end of the season and the World Championships triumph, is still fresh in Andersson’s mind, and he feels as though he experienced tremendous growth in 2017-18.

“To finish the season with New York, and then after that win the World Championships with Sweden, it was fantastic,” Andersson said. “We had a great run there with the team, and it was fun to be on that World Championships team and be able to get those games when it matters the most.”

And, having played many meaningful games already in his still very young career, Andersson is making every minute count as he works toward helping forge a Ranger future that includes countless more.