A year ago, when the Rangers decided to send young center Lias Andersson to the minor leagues at the end of training camp, general manager Jeff Gorton explained that while the coaching staff could have kept the then-19-year-old, and played him 7 or 8 minutes a game, the better thing for his development was to go to AHL Hartford and play first-line minutes there.
Andersson, who will turn 21 on Sunday, made the team for opening night this year, but through the first two games, he hasn’t played too much. In the 6-4 opening-night win over Winnipeg, he played a team-low 8:33. He played a little more – 10:16 – in the 4-1 win over Ottawa two nights later, but he still had the least ice time of anyone, and is still averaging just 9:25 per game.
“It is just two games,’’ coach David Quinn said when asked about Andersson’s ice time so far. “His ice time increased a little bit [in the second game]. I think he's going to continue to earn more ice time, and get more ice time. That being said, we feel comfortable with our lineup right now, with the four lines. You know, he's going to kill penalties, right? He's done a good job that way. So, you know, it's probably going to be game to game.’’
Andersson currently is the fourth-line center and part of a Rangers’ penalty killing unit that has killed nine of its first 10 penalties. He takes great pride in his part in that.
“I feel like I've done my job,’’ Andersson said. “And, you know, penalty kill is a big part of the game… You’ve got to have a good PK to win games… You can also create scoring chances on the PK. You saw the last game [where Mika Zibanejad scored a shorthanded goal]. If you're sharp, and your feet move, and you pressure pucks, you can create some offense there, too.’’
Quinn was asked several times during the preseason about whether it was better for young players’ development to be with the Rangers and play limited minutes, as opposed to playing major minutes with Hartford. His answer, essentially, was that it depended on the player. While the Rangers kept Andersson – chosen with the seventh pick overall in the 2017 draft – to play on the fourth line, they sent Filip Chytil – the 21st pick that year – to Hartford when they didn’t have a spot for him in the top three lines.
“Every situation is different,’’ Quinn said. “And we feel [Andersson] being here and there may be nights he plays 10, 12 minutes. We think that's good for his development. Whereas, some other players, we don't think that's good for their development… So, you may say, 'Well, why is it not good for Chytil?' Well, because we think it's a different situation.’’
Naturally, Andersson is happier being with the Rangers than playing 20 minutes a night for Hartford.
“I mean, you always want to be up here,’’ he said. “I'm just gonna keep going, and try to help the team win. And if the coach wants me out there. I'll jump out right away.
“I'm a coachable player, I think, and I can play in all situations,’’ he continued. “So, I feel like I develop every day.’’