DETROIT – Lias Andersson’s journey to becoming a cornerstone of the Rangers’ rebuild has definitely not been smooth so far. But coach David Quinn, who has demanded much from the 20-year-old center this season, insists the first-round pick is getting there.
“I think there’s a maturity side that’s kind of evolved since September,’’ Quinn said a couple of days ago of Andersson, whom the Rangers took with the No. 7 pick overall in 2017. “I think he’s got a better understanding for what it’s going to take for him to have success at this level. He’s done a great job with his conditioning and his mindset and working at his game. I just feel really good about where he’s at.’’
Andersson was back in the lineup Thursday for the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Red Wings, after being a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s 1-0 loss in Dallas. He wasn’t much of a factor in the game, which was instead dominated by Pavel Buchnevich, who had the first and last goals in regulation and Henrik Lundqvist, who, in his 850th game, had 43 saves in regulation and overtime before Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou scored the only goal of the tiebreaker to give the Red Wings the win.
The Rangers ended their two-game road trip 0-2, with a pair of one-goal losses. They return home for a game Saturday against the Devils at Madison Square Garden.
Andersson cleared up the mystery of why he sat out Tuesday’s game, saying Quinn met with him and showed him some video of Sunday’s shootout loss to Washington, when he made a mistake on the Capitals’ first goal. “I was on the wrong side of the puck,’’ Andersson said. “So, I understand that. I didn’t have a great night defensively, so I’ve just got to clean up that a little bit.’’
Many people had expected Andersson to make the Rangers roster out of training camp, but Quinn opted to keep 20-year-old Brett Howden instead, and sent Andersson to Hartford (AHL). When Howden had a scary crash into the boards in a game in late October, the Rangers recalled Andersson, who had played well at Hartford in the first month. Andersson looked good for a little while, but soon began playing less and less, until he was returned to Hartford after Christmas.
As the Rangers prepared to ship out forwards Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, Andersson was recalled from Hartford Feb. 21. Quinn praised the young Swede’s improved conditioning upon his recall, but the question was put to Andersson why his conditioning wasn’t what it should have been at the start of the season. He said the issue was that he apparently had overdone things in the weight room.
I focused more on strength, maybe, than the conditioning part,’’ he said. “So I went down there \[to Hartford\] and really focused on the conditioning, and did a lot of bike, and stuff. I think that helped me a lot.’’
Andersson said he now feels faster, as well as stronger, which he said has made a difference in his play. As for what he needs to do to establish himself as a regular, Andersson said he needs to focus on his work in the defensive end of the ice, and, “just be hard to play against.’’
Andersson was asked if any of his struggles to date may have stemmed from perhaps putting too much pressure on himself to live up to his being selected No. 7 overall. He said no.
I just try to do everything I can every night,’’ he said. “That’s all I can do.’’