By George Johnson
SHENZHEN – Tucked in behind the Flames’ headquarters for the next couple of days, the Ritz-Carlton, rising above the neon-soaked skyline like some steel and glass colossus, sits the $1.5-billion Ping An International Finance Centre.
Completed in 2017, it stands as the fourth tallest structure on the planet, a vertigo-triggering 115 stories high.
So should Rasmus Andersson require any additional inspiration on the subject of sheer ambition, or about the quest to reach the top floor of his own profession, well, he need only head out the hotel’s front door and … look up.
It’s time, he believes.
No more intriguing guest-starring roles or eye-catching cameos.
Been there, done that.
“I have an opportunity here, and it’s up to me to take advantage of it,” says the 21-year-old blueliner from Malmo, Sweden. “I feel like I’ve done everything it takes to be here.
“I want to play regularly in the NHL.
“But feeling that way or talking about it isn’t enough. Now I’ve got to go and prove it on the ice.”
As happens often with talented young players, Andersson’s conditioning has taken a bit of time in catching up to his abundant natural abilities.
Trimmed down to 203 pounds, aided and abetted by Allan Selby in Stockton and Flames’ strength and conditioning coach Ryan Van Asten, Andersson has given himself every opportunity in this, his third season pro, to crack the Calgary lineup on a day-to-day basis.
“Over the last couple of years, he’s made all the changes he’s been asked to,” praises Ryan Huska, elevated to assistant coach on the big club following four seasons in command of the organization’s top developmental team. “And this year he looks significantly better than he did even a year ago.
“He’s on track for where he should be physically. I think he’s matured a lot in that area. That’s been the biggest concern about him along the way and I think he’s answered all those questions.
“You always saw the player that was there, though. Him understanding how to take better care of himself now and how important that is, he’s able to play the game with more pace, which is the style that best suits him.
“Then you can see his talent come out. How he can see the ice and move the puck.”
Ability has never been at issue.
“This summer,” says Andersson, “I made up my mind: No more excuses to not be playing in the NHL. My girlfriend (Tessa) loves fitness and helps me a lot in that area.
“It really comes down to what you eat, what you put in your body.”
Although nothing is being taken for granted, his inclusion in the travelling party to China, given that the bulk of what will shape the final roster is here becoming acquainted with new coach Bill Peters, provided a welcome vote of confidence.
“I was really excited when I heard I’d be coming over. Something different here, for sure, but I like it,” says Andersson. “I enjoy seeing new countries and now I can check China off my bucket list.
“So far, I’d say Switzerland is my favourite place. I love the mountains. We lived there for four years, when my dad played in Lugano. And my brother plays there now. I remember driving to Switzerland from Malmo and we went through four countries in 10 hours. And if we’d kept going another two hours we’d have been in Italy.
“I spoke fluent Italian when I was a kid but when we returned home, I was like five years old and had fallen out of practice.”
Andersson’s on-ice mother tongue, one of offensive acuity and intelligent decision-making, is instinctive, inborn and ever-lasting.
Called up March 29, he spent the final 10 games of last season auditioning as a Flame, providing GM Brad Treliving and the rest of the hockey ops staff an opportunity to view a larger sample size of work against NHL-calibre opposition.
“Those 10 games,” says Andersson, “were important for me. I feel more a part of the team now, am more comfortable with all the guys.”
“There’s a lot of good competition here for spots on the back end,” cautions Huska. “And he’s one of many guys in the mix.
“I think Ras needs to come with the mindset that he’s going to take a job from somebody. If he’s able to come in with that attitude, assert himself and let his natural ability take over, I think good things are in store.
“But he has to push. The opportunity is there. He understands that. And opportunity is all that any player can ask for.”