The opportunity to play in the MasterCard Memorial Cup is considered the pinnacle of a junior hockey player's career, and with only four teams participating every season, there are several accomplished players who never get the chance.
When he was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, Josh Anderson was a wide-eyed 18-year-old who didn't make it to CONSOL Energy Center but got the good news via phone call - and was still in shock when he spoke to reporters shortly thereafter. But on the inside, the club knew it was getting a fiery competitor and a player who doesn't make many friends between whistles.
Now, after two seasons with the London Knights and a pair of close calls at the Memorial Cup, it's safe to say Anderson (now 19) is armed with a wealth of big-game experience that will only benefit him as his career continues.
In those two seasons, Anderson went from 12 goals and 22 points in his rookie season a year ago to a 23-goal scorer in 2012-13. He displayed the physicality and tenacity on the puck that made him so appealing to the Blue Jackets, and has really grown his all-around game under head coach Dale Hunter.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was in Saskatoon, Sask. last week to catch the Memorial Cup, which was loaded with top prospect in this year's NHL Draft class. But he also had a chance to watch one of the bright young prospects he inherited upon taking over in Columbus in February, and watched him do so on junior hockey's biggest stage.
“I only got to see him play a couple of times, and it’s a pleasant surprise that he’s playing given the knee injury he suffered," Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. "It looked like his season was over a little while ago. But he’s back playing and he played very well even though (London hasn't played very well) as a team.
"I thought Josh played well. He’s a big guy and has a lot of potential with his size and strength and has the ability to move well. He’s a good prospect for us.”
|Josh Anderson (center) scored 23 goals in his second OHL season. |
The 6-foot-2, 193 lb. right winger was on the board when Columbus picked 95th overall last summer and they jumped at the opportunity. Anderson was a key component of a strong Knights team that was constructed with championships in mind, and one that lost a heartbreaker to host Shawinigan in 2012.
And when Kekalainen joined the organization under president of hockey operations John Davidson, they quickly saw a player in Anderson who identifies with several of the key characteristics they're looking to build a consistent, contending team around. The same requirements stand for players in this year's draft class: if they're on the Blue Jackets' radar, they fit the mold of being competitive, team players who do the right things on and off the ice.
“I’ve said many times that we’re always looking for character, heart and work ethic and that’s what we want to see from all players – guys in our development system and in the draft class," Kekalainen said. "We want to emphasize guys working with character, grit and determination to win in big games like this. It’s important to see these important games and how the guys are willing and able to make a difference."
While the Knights fell short of their Memorial Cup goal, Kekalainen was pleased that Anderson and his teammates were able to gain valuable experience in a high-pressure situation, which will serve as a learning experience and something they can draw on later in their careers.
With a few years of junior hockey eligibility left, Anderson could very well find himself in a similar position a year from now - and he'll be more prepared after what he gained in 2013.
“Every day is an opportunity for these kids to earn something and that’s how they have to approach it," Kekalainen said. "When they have a long playoff run and a chance to win a championship like London did this year, it’s a great learning experience for a young player and now they have another in the Memorial Cup.
"They have to cherish it and pull everything out of it as they can and put it in the memory bank. Use it to your advantage in the future and in your development as a hockey player.”