When the Leafs made the trade that sent Andreas Johnsson to the New Jersey Devils, it was safe to assume at first that the deal was meant to be a cash dump for Toronto. After all, Johnsson was making over $3 million against the cap and the Leafs were looking to make some upgrades elsewhere so it’s understandable that he would be one of the casualties as a result of this.
While it is true that the Leafs wanted to shed salary, they weren’t going to just deal away Johnsson for nothing. They wanted to get back a player who could provide a different element to the forward unit and potentially find his way onto the roster in the near future. That’s why they got Joey Anderson in return; Toronto saw something in the Roseville native that compelled them enough to acquire his services.
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: 2016 3rd round, 73rd overall (NJD)
What kind of player is he?
Anderson isn’t a big player but he makes up for it by playing a high level of energy. This allows him to win races to pucks in the corner and battle for position along the boards which helps create space for his linemates to generate scoring opportunities. That high-octane play style allows him to fly down the ice with ease and get in position for either a scoring chance or to defend. The Leafs seem to value quality skaters, which is especially true in today’s NHL, so it’s encouraging for him to have good foot speed at this stage of his development.
He’s also got a wicked shot that can easily fool a goaltender, which he has shown off a few times during his brief appearances in the NHL. You can see it on display for Anderson’s first career goal as well as in this February game against the Columbus Blue Jackets:
— Devils on MSG (@DevilsMSGN) February 17, 2020
After watching some of Anderson’s highlights during his brief NHL stint, one thing that stood out to me was how effective he is at pursuing pucks. He likes to be aggressive on the puck carrier in an effort to force turnovers and extend offensive zone time, making him a constant threat every time he steps on the ice. His hockey-IQ is also strong in that he knows where to position himself to either slow down his opponent or box them out to open up space for his teammate. It’s by no means a finished product, but it’s good enough for him to slot into the Leafs’ bottom-six as soon as the 2021 season.
Rachel Doerrie of the Staff and Graph Podcast said in a Twitter thread that the Devils viewed Anderson as someone who could play Blake Coleman (who you might know is someone I want on the Leafs) Combine that with Anderson himself saying that he wants to follow in Zach Hyman’s footsteps, you can understand why the Leafs got him in the Johnsson trade and why Leafs fans will likely come to love him once he finds a permanent spot in the lineup.
There’s a reason why the Leafs value Hyman so highly: players like him are tough to find and play a vital role in the modern NHL. So to get a similar player like him in Anderson who will be on the books for the next three years is highly important. Anderson might find himself playing alongside the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner by 2022 if the Leafs can’t keep Hyman beyond the 2020-21 season.
By the numbers
At every level he has played at so far, Anderson has put up decent scoring numbers which should bode well for him becoming a reliable middle-six forward at his peak. He split the previous campaign with New Jersey and Binghamton where he produced 34 points in 44 AHL games and six points in 18 NHL games. He didn’t get as long a look in the big leagues as he did in 2018-19 where he suited up for 34 games, but Anderson’s efficiency was much better. In those 34 games, he only registered seven points total which equals roughly 0.21 PPG. Compare that to the 2019-20 season where his PPG total improved to 0.33.
Should Anderson find himself in the Leafs roster this season or next, you’ll likely see him given more defensive responsibilities. In his first 54 NHL games, nearly 60% of his shifts at even strength began in the defensive end. This results in most of his underlying metrics hovering below 50% in the same scenario last season, with the exception being xGF% and HDCF% which sat at 55.87 and 55.93 respectively.
You may recall that Anderson was one of the bright spots on the US U18 team that won a bronze medal at the tournament. He recorded nine points in only seven games, which you can see some of the highlights from below:
He later went on to represent his country at the 2017 and 2018 WJC, the latter saw him be named team captain. His combined nine points in 14 career WJC games helped the US win a gold and bronze medal in the respective tournaments. The fact he was named captain at such a young age says a lot about his growth as a leader in the locker room and should bode well for the Leafs long-term.
What’s next for Anderson?
As I mentioned earlier in the piece, Anderson is not a finished product. One thing he needs to work on is his creativity in the offensive end as he tends to make simple plays instead of trying to take full advantage of the open ice. This comes with more experience and gaining more responsibility which he will get if he were to start the season with the Marlies (assuming they can play of course). He will be given every opportunity to maximize his potential and get implemented into key offensive situations that will help grow his confidence.
It’s entirely possible that the Leafs instead think he would be best suited to spend the year with the Leafs while rotating in and out of the lineup. Anderson should have little trouble matching up against bottom-six competition and his defensive usage would definitely be a nice addition to the forward core.
But what’s the rush in bringing him up? He was signed to a three-year contract back in October and will remain an RFA by the time he will be up for an extension. I think it would be in the Leafs’ best interest to start Anderson with the Marlies and make him be at the top of the recall list should the injury bug hit the team hard again. This would only need to occur during the coming season as I believe he has a great chance to make the everyday roster for the 2021-22 campaign.
Regardless of where he ends up to begin the upcoming year, Anderson has a bright future ahead of him in Toronto. It’s only fitting that he is ranked at #7.
All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com, Natural Stat Trick, and Elite Prospects.
The charts used are from hockeyviz.com.
All salary information is from PuckPedia.com.