Ontario Reign: Coach Wrobo finding ‘delicate balance’ with Lias Andersson

After beginning the year with the LA Kings, Lias Andersson is fine-tuning his skills at the AHL level with the Ontario Reign.

Despite having a tumultuous tenure with the New York Rangers, it’s hard to believe that Lias Andersson is still only 22 years old. The former seventh-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft was acquired for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, sending Andersson to the LA Kings. He broke camp with the NHL club but has been with the AHL’s Ontario Reign for the last six games.

With the Kings, Andersson tallied just one goal in 11 games, coming out of the penalty box at the right time with a dazzling move to beat Blues’ netminder Ville Husso.

To this point, Andersson has been defined by his time in New York, highlighted by demanding a trade from the Rangers and returning to his native Sweden to play for HV71 of the SHL. The Kings, of course, gave him the fresh start that he desired, and Andersson joined the team for training camp.

All the talk of the LA Kings coaches and players described the 22-year-old as a high-energy guy with plenty of tenacity, and he’s receiving the same sentiments from Ontario Reign head coach John Wroblewski thus far.

“He’s a fiery competitor, versatile offensively,” Wroblewski said following the Reign’s 5-3 loss on Wednesday. “And, you know, just at this point, it just checks all the boxes for what you want from a veteran guy or experienced player coming down from the NHL.

“He not only plays an honest 200-foot game most nights, but he brings some electricity and some flair to his game as well.”

A natural centerman, Andersson had difficulty finding regular playing time at the NHL level, given how deep the LA Kings are up the middle. With the likes of Blake Lizotte, Michael Amadio, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan competing for playing time among the bottom-six forwards, Andersson was forced to the wing for much of his 11 games.

He hasn’t played with the NHL club since February 16, and before resuming play with the Ontario Reign on March 3, Andersson spent his time idle on the Kings’ taxi squad. Now settling into somewhat of a regular role with Ontario, the Swedish forward has one goal and seven points in six games.

For as much offensive promise as he provides, Andersson has a lot of work to do on the defensive side. In four of the last five games with the Kings, the Smögen, Sweden native logged a -5 rating.

“The main concentration has just been some defensive positioning, which, frankly, he’s been a little off with,” Wroblewski said of Andersson, “He needs to pick up his guys here and there. And sometimes, he gravitates a little bit too much to the puck.”

According to NaturalStatTrick, Andersson had a 25.0 GF%, broken down into three goals forced and nine goals allowed while he was on the ice. Certainly, he’s not solely responsible for all of the defensive shortcomings, but there was obviously a need for improvement.

In 66 games with the Rangers spread across three NHL seasons, Andersson logged a 30 GF%, 15 goals forced to 35 goals allowed. Perhaps it stems from how much time he spent in Sweden, playing on a larger rink where it primarily becomes a puck-possession game. Still, the Kings development staff is trying to mold Andersson into a complete player while not overcompensating defensively that it takes away from his natural offensive abilities.

“And we’re asking you to play to produce and make sure he checks up on that defensive side of the puck,” Wroblewski said of his objective. “So, a little bit of a role switch for him and one that, you know, we’re going to keep working with him. But, it’s such a delicate balance of not knowing exactly how long you’re going to have him for and then not trying to change everything that he’s doing at once and making sure that he’s not out there thinking too much as well. He’s got to be out there playing instinctually and then just try to bring him along bit by bit.”

Given the inconsistencies among the bottom-nine forward lines at the NHL level, Andersson will probably see more time with the Kings before the season is over. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s more responsible in his own end the next time he’s called up.