Let me tell you how excited I am for 90% of the people here to read the title and then comment “Howden is the 3C” or some variety of that. I truly can’t wait for comments filled with that. It should be known that outside of his hot start, Howden was demonstrably worse than Andersson in every facet of the game. But I’ll get into Howden’s chances at 3C in a later post.
Outside of the blue line, the most talked about position on the Rangers is the center position. With Mika Zibanejad cemented in as the 1C and Filip Chytil likely the 2C, the focus is on Lias Andersson as the 3C and Brett Howden as the 4C. While this is going to change many times throughout the year, it’s my guess that this is how the season will begin.
Andersson is, for some reason, hated as a 20 year old because he was the 7th overall pick and didn’t make the jump to the NHL right away. He’s not a perfect prospect, but still projects to be a middle-six/bottom-six center. He’s 20 years old, and will turn 21 around the second week of the season. There’s room to grow in the right environment, and he can only get better.
Andersson has struggled, but he’s also progressed and looked better with each recall. It’s also expected that he will get better linemates this season, as the offseason has bolstered the Blueshirts’ wing depth substantially. Instead of spending most of his time with Ryan Strome and his poor peripheral numbers and inflated SH% that will likely crash this season, it’s possibly Andersson spends a good chunk of time with players like Brendan Lemieux and Vitali Kravtsov. That’s a significant upgrade in skill and should have a positive impact on Andersson.
Here’s the thing though, Andersson was a net-negative both offensively and defensively. Offensively he was a black hole, but defensively there was a significant improvement from the prior year, and his time with Hartford to focus on that aspect of his game appears to have paid dividends. This is just a 42 game sample though, so take it with a grain of salt.
But it’s all about how Andersson plays this year, and how he comes into camp. He showed improvement, but still had a long way to go before he becomes a viable 3C. His skating needed work, his positioning needed work, and he needed to use that brain of his a little better, both offensively and defensively. All this comes with experience, and there’s a reason why he was a top-ten pick in 2017. The tools are there. He will need time to put it all together.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but it’s not all going to come together this season either. It will be Andersson’s first (likely) full season at the NHL level. He’s going to be streaky. He’s going to have flashes of brilliance. He’s going to make boneheaded mistakes. That’s part of the rollercoaster ride of the rebuild and the kids getting more playing time and growing. The great offseason has perhaps set expectations to be higher than they should. The Blueshirts will be fun to watch, but until the kids grow into their roles, they won’t be a good team. This is still a team in transition."Looking at Lias Andersson as the 3C",