Rasmus Andersson is one of the most fascinating Flames players to watch this year. The fourth-year defenceman wasn’t alone amongst important players having down seasons in 2021. Knowing how Calgary’s blueline story has played out this summer, though, a rebound year from Andersson looms as one of the most crucial keys to a return to the playoffs.
“It was very much up and down,” Andersson admitted at the end of last season. “I thought when I played well, I played well. Unfortunately, when I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, I didn’t really play that well…so it was a lot of up and down really. It was a tough season overall and obviously…I would like to have a better season. It is what it is and I’ve got to come back stronger and just play better overall next year.”
That’s probably a fair assessment from Andersson, because his 56-game campaign wasn’t devoid of positives. For instance, over 82 games, Andersson was on pace to set new career offensive highs across the board. His 21:13 average ice time was also a career high, which was important as Andersson got his first real taste as a full-time top four blueliner.
What went along with that increased ice time was increased responsibility. Playing mostly with the departed Mark Giordano, Andersson saw tough competition every shift while his offensive zone start ratio dropped significantly. It was a big jump for Andersson and there were growing pains as a result. For the first time in his career, high danger chances and expected goals went against the Flames with Andersson on the ice. Five-on-five metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Now, without blindly excusing last year, it’s probably fair to give Andersson some benefit of the doubt here. He wouldn’t be the first young defenceman to initially struggle with ramped up responsibility; in fact, it’s relatively rare for that not to happen. Andersson’s first two NHL seasons were overwhelmingly positive, so a dip was to be expected as these things aren’t linear.
That said, an Andersson return to form would be massive for Calgary. Giordano is gone, leaving the Flames with a significant hole to fill by committee. Just compare how the team’s blueline depth looks year over year heading into this season.
Giordano led the team in ice time at 22:57 last year and, at 26 points, led all d-men in scoring. For Calgary to withstand his departure without taking a big step back, a few non-negotiable things have to happen. Tanev needs to maintain his high, high level from him last year. The same goes for Hanifin, with perhaps another small step forward. And Andersson needs to bounce back.
The good news is there’s a decent chance that happens. As mentioned, young d-men have off years, and Andersson’s trajectory remains pointed in the right direction; he doesn’t turn 25 until the end of October. Andersson’s motivation is high and he knows how important the coming season is. Maybe we see Andersson play with Zadorov. Maybe he’s back with Hanifin like he was down the stretch last year. Regardless, though, I don’t love the team’s outlook if Andersson has another season like the last.