Today we begin a new series on why you should get excited for a potential future Stockton Heat player who will hopefully move from the Central Valley, to Alberta to try and bring the Stanley Cup back home to Calgary.
We begin with a player who could play for the Heat as early as…well… October 15 as defenseman and the Flames’ first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Rasmus Andersson, could easily find himself patrolling the blueline for the Heat during the 2016-17 season.
Taken 43rd overall, 17 spots ahead of fellow Swedish defenseman and current Heat player Oliver Kylington, Andersson is someone to get excited about due to his prowess in all three zones. Like Oliver, Rasmus has played pro hockey before in Sweden but unlike his fellow countryman, was drafted in 2014 in the Canadian Hockey League (OHL, QMJHL & WHL) Import Draft, and due to the agreement between the CHL and the NHL, was bound to play either in Europe or with the OHL club that drafted him.
After 81 games of pro hockey in Sweden’s second division, Andersson opted to turn to North America and suit up for the Barrie Colts of the OHL, the team that drafted him 37th overall in the CHL Import Draft.
In 2014-15, Andersson jumped to Barrie and had himself a terrific rookie season in the OHL. While Andersson ranked 13th among defenseman with 12 goals, he was the second best defenseman with 52 assists and third best defenseman with 64 points, was named to the OHL’s Second All-Star Team and was invited to participate in the CHL Top Prospects Game. While Barrie made the playoffs, they were ousted in the second round by the North Bay Battalion four games to one, however the first-year blueliner contributed a goal and 3 assists in 9 playoff games.
In his sophomore campaign with Barrie, Andersson improved on his rookie season to put up the most assists and points by any OHL defenseman, finishing the year with 9 goals and 51 assists for 60 points. Now you might ask yourself, “how is four points fewer improving on your rookie season?”
However by all accounts it was his game in his own zone that improved the most, and looking at his plus/minus, Andersson improved by 20 to a plus-34 rating in his second season. Then with Barrie going headstrong into the OHL playoff picture as the second seed in the East, Andersson had a tremendous playoff with the club, going a point-per-game in 15 games (2-13-15). The Colts were unfortunately ousted by the Niagara Ice Dogs in the Conference Finals, however Andersson proved himself to be a leader on and off the ice.
With Andersson turning 20-years-old on October 27 this season, he could be due for a promotion and play full-time in the AHL this season, so this summer could potentially be a very important one for the young Swede.
While he earned his contract with a great showing during the rookie camp and at the Penticton Young Stars Classic where he turned heads (including ours) by logging big minutes, his crisp passing and breakouts and even his grit, getting into his first hockey fight ever with former Bakersfield Condor and current Oiler Darnell Nurse.
At 6’1″, 214 lbs., Andersson may not have been the victor in that fight, but the smaller defenseman stood tough to the task, something you could see him do in every zone. There was one particular occasion where Andersson muscled a puck away from the much bigger Nurse in the corner to set up a scoring chance for the Flames. These are things to look forward to as he progresses to the next level.
That’s not to say that there won’t be growing pains with Andersson. As we saw with Kylington, there is a significant jump in talent at the AHL level and you will see Andersson need to adjust to the size, speed and skill of his opponents. However as evidenced by Kylington, the better play/decisions in your own zone coupled with growing confidence could really mean great things for the future of his fellow Swede during his rookie season in 2016-17.
While Andersson is still eligible to return to his junior club for his overage season, with back-to-back 60 point seasons, Brad Treliving and Company will probably be more interested in how Andersson can grow as a pro and hope for a very similar path to that of Kylington, where you see constant growth all season long, a potential candidate for the team’s Rookie of the Year award (Kylington won during the inaugural season) and perhaps some time with the big club!
Whatever happens during the offseason and during training camps, Andersson is clearly an exciting prospect for the Calgary Flames and Heat fans should be excited for seeing him paired on the blueline with a returning defenseman. If you assume Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon would be due for some form of NHL promotion, the Heat could start the season with Andersson, Kylington, Kenney Morrison, Ryan Culkin, Pat Sieloff and Keegan Kanzig as their top six.
While an all second-round Swedish pairing of Andersson and Kylington gets Calgary fans EXTREMELY excited, it’s far more likely to see Kylington continue to pair with Sieloff as the two paired well during the second half of the season. Perhaps with the injuries that plagued his first two pro seasons, Ryan Culkin who turns 22 this season, could find himself a terrific pair for Andersson to have, and if Culkin can regain that scoring touch that he demonstrated prior to his freak wrist injury, an Andersson – Culkin backend pair could prove dangerous from a playmaking standpoint.
Heat fans…get excited for Rasmus Andersson, coming to an arena near you on October 15!