In 2015, the Calgary Flames traded three draft picks to the Boston Bruins to land themselves a top pairing defender. In retrospect it’s pretty ironic, then, that the long-term top pairing defender they actually got at that draft may end up being second round pick Rasmus Andersson.
A plucky Swede who plied his trade in the Ontario Hockey League, Andersson seems poised to step into the top pairing spot vacated by TJ Brodie. So what can we expect from Andersson in 2020-21?

How he got here

A son of Swedish hockey mainstay Peter Andersson, who played 47 NHL games with the Rangers and Florida as part of a 20-plus season pro career, the younger Andersson played most of his hockey growing up with Malmo. He was among the most promising blueliners in both the U16 and U18 circuits and, seeking a challenge, he headed to North America after being selected by the Barrie Colts in the 2014 CHL Import Draft.
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In two seasons with Barrie, Andersson was one of the more impressive blueliners in the OHL. He had 64 points in 67 games as a rookie, was named a conference all-star, and was drafted by the Flames (53rd overall) at the NHL Draft. The following season, Andersson led the OHL’s defensemen in points and was again a conference all-star.
Going pro in 2016-17, Andersson was good but not fantastic in the AHL (with 22 points in 54 games), plus made his NHL debut late in the season. At the following development camp, his conditioning was criticized by Flames GM Brad Treliving. Andersson responded to the criticism by getting into much better shape and becoming one of Stockton’s go-to offensive defenders. He was rewarded with a month on the Flames roster, where he largely just practised and soaked up good habits from his veteran teammates. (He played 10 games, too.)
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Andersson levelled up in 2018-19, earning a roster spot in training camp and easily surpassing his father’s NHL games played mark with 79 NHL games in one season. He played mostly on the third pairing, but also slotted in with Mark Giordano on the top pairing for a quarter of the season (in a season where Giordano won the Norris Trophy). He had two goals and 19 points.
The following season, Andersson became even more of a focal point, playing in all 70 of Calgary’s games and scoring five goals and 22 points. He was used with essentially everybody, but mostly played with Giordano and Noah Hanifin.

2020-21 expectations

With Brodie and Travis Hamonic gone elsewhere, Andersson is the team’s only returning right shot defender. He’s also easily their best all-around right shot defender, with Chris Tanev more of a defensive-minded player. With the departures, Andersson is either going to play full-time with Hanifin on the second pairing or with Giordano on the first pairing (with Tanev likely slotting in with whoever Andersson doesn’t play with). Based entirely upon underlying numbers, putting Giordano and Andersson together would create the best possible pairing for the Flames – Giordano is excellent defensively, while Andersson is superb offensively. (This is based on Per 60 shot metrics from Natural Stat Trick relative to the rest of the defensive group.)
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Here’s the thing with Andersson, though: he’s been great, but sheltered with favourable match-ups and a heavy skew towards offensive zone starts. With three question marks in the form of Juuso Valimaki, Nikita Nesterov and Oliver Kylington – in some combination – making up the third pairing, expect Geoff Ward to do his best to give that grouping the high ground as they try to find their footing as full-time NHLers. The question remains: what will happen to Andersson with tougher deployments? He’ll be used in every situation and he’ll be leaned upon increasingly in special teams situations that he hasn’t experienced as much in prior seasons. Can he rise to the challenge?
For the past two seasons, Andersson has been a great asset for the Flames – a superb depth defender who could slot in with the top players and contribute. But for a team with a well-defined top four group, he was a “nice to have.” Well, starting in 2020-21 Andersson is being paid more like a core player than a young up-and-comer. While his strong play was a pleasant surprise in prior season, it’ll become a necessity going forward if the Flames are going to be a team to be reckoned with in the North Division.
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