Under six minutes remained in the third period of a tie game at the Garden on Sunday afternoon and there was Lias Andersson on the ice, entrusted with the assignment by David Quinn.
“I’m definitely ready whenever the coach calls on me,” the 21-year-old Swede told The Post. “I try to improve every day and I’m battling every day in practice so that I’m ready for that.”
All good, correct?
Except that the shift was only Andersson’s third even-strength turn of the period during which he sat for one stretch of nearly seven minutes and another of nearly five. Except that the center finished with a total of 7:36 that included merely 5:39 of even-strength time in the 6-5 shootout defeat to the Panthers.
“I always want to play as much as I can,” Andersson said. “It’s a very tough question for me to say that I should play more. That’s not my decision.”
Filip Chytil is getting minutes as the second-line center. Brett Howden is one of the team’s go-to guys. The young’uns on the blue line, specifically Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek, always seem to be on the ice in critical situations. You can make the case, in fact, that the Lindgren-Fox combo has become the team’s top pairing as Jacob Trouba’s marked struggles for at least the last week have continued, if not escalated.
Kaapo Kakko not only had an extended shift in overtime, but he was Quinn’s go-to guy in the shootout when the Blueshirts were down to their last strike in the top of the third. The Finn kept his team alive by slipping a nifty backhand short side against Sam Montembeault moments before Vincent Trocheck ended it all by beating Henrik Lundqvist.
“It was a good goal. It was a good move,” a hardly reticent Kakko told The Post. “I expected [to be selected] a little bit. I’m always ready.”
So this is not about David Quinn or the organization reneging on their pledge to go as all-in as realistically possible on youth. It is about Andersson, just as it has been about the Swede since he was selected seventh-overall in the 2017 entry draft with the choice obtained from Arizona for Derek Stepan.
There is no need to re-litigate the pick. We’ve all been over it, over and over and over again. The Rangers aren’t getting a do-over. And if you want to say that it’s only Andersson’s third pro season, the counterpoint is that it is already Andersson’s third pro season and he is stuck on a fourth line with pluggers rather than talented labor, and he is getting 9:54 per that includes 7:41 at even-strength. And at this point, his skills seem to have atrophied.
“It was the flow of the game more than anything,” Quinn said when asked why No. 28 had played so sparingly in the third period, not mentioning that he’d been kind of caught in no-man’s land on Brian Boyle’s 5-5 tying goal at 7:01 of the third period.
Then, when asked if Andersson needs more ice time, the coach replied, “He needs to earn more ice time.”
There are no easy answers here with Andersson buried on the depth chart down the middle behind the injured Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Chytil and Howden. But surely this isn’t it. Surely this isn’t doing anyone all that much good. And you know what, dispatching Andersson to AHL Hartford (again) so he can get big-time minutes in big-time situations almost certainly isn’t an answer, either.
So at this point, perhaps it would be best for all concerned to move Andersson in a trade, but what value could he possibly carry? If the team’s semi-interest in winger Jesse Puljujarvi, currently playing in his native Finland as an unsigned Edmonton restricted free agent, escalates over the next couple of weeks, sending Andersson the other way would seem logical.
After all, that would be an exchange of a disappointing fourth-overall for a disappointing seventh-overall. But unfortunately, Peter Chiarelli no longer sits in the Edmonton GM chair and good luck to Jeff Gorton convincing his counterpart Ken Holland that the players have equal value.
Because whatever value Andersson has is depleted by the day. It is depleted when he can’t get off the bench. It is depleted when he is stuck on a fourth line on a team that doesn’t go overboard with its usage.
“If the chance comes, I’m ready to take it,” Andersson said. “I try to showcase myself every practice and every game.”
The Rangers might want to showcase Andersson, as well.
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