When Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter spoke this summer about teams needing an elite defenceman to win the Stanley Cup, people sort of assumed he might be referring to newcomer MacKenzie Weegar.
The veteran late-bloomer has been impressive at times during his first handful of games with the Flames. He’s got a respectable three assists, and averages more than 21 and a half minutes per game. Weegar is second only to partner Chris Tanev in blocks, and right behind behemoth Nikita Zadorov in hits.
But it’s the 25-year-old Rasmus Andersson who looks like an early favourite for that Sutter suggestion.
It’s not just his team-leading six points (a spot he shares with newcomer Nazem Kadri). Andersson also leads all skaters with an average of 24:05 per game — bolstered by a career high 27:47 on Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I felt good,” Andersson said after the two-assist game. “I obviously wasn’t too happy with the Buffalo game, so I knew I needed a bounceback game.”
Bounceback could also describe his game-changing rush in overtime against the Hurricanes.
Martin Necas thought he had an angle on the defenceman on the flank, but Andersson wheeled past him through the neutral zone. When Sebastian Aho tried to pinch him out on the boards, Andersson managed to keep the puck bouncing with him.
He deftly curled and quickly spotted sniper Tyler Toffoli in the slot.
Perfect pass. One-timer. Game over.
His assist on Kadri’s first-period powerplay goal the 100th helper of Andersson’s career. But that 101st. Highlight-reel stuff.
Unless you’re Sutter, of course, who was more impressed by the minutes.
Or maybe he just expects that kind of play from his competitive, supremely talented rearguard.
“He played a lot,” Sutter said on Saturday.
“I don’t know if there’s anything special he did. That’s why they’re out there. Three-on-three, you’re supposed to be guys that can pass and skate and shoot.”
Andersson can do it all. It’s almost comical to suggest a 50-point defenceman isn’t yet considered an elite player.
It’s certainly the path he’s on.
Andersson is motivated to be great. And seeing Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin put on a clinic in Calgary a couple of nights earlier may have fueled that fire a little more.
As if the loss wasn’t enough.
The 22-year-old Dahlin has been under a microscope for years as one of the youngest defencemen ever to make an NHL team. He’s only 22 now, but finally living up to those celestial expectations.
He set an NHL record against the Calgary Flames last week, scoring in his fourth straight game to start the season. Dahlin has since added a fifth.
Andersson is more of a passer. He had 46 helpers last year in his breakout season under Sutter.
So far this year, it looks like there’s another level he can reach.