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Highly-touted defenceman burning it up in rookie season with Heat

by DUSTIN COWELL @dustin_cowell /

In the lead up to the 2016-17 season, one of the storylines that sat front-and-centre was the anticipation of defenceman Rasmus Andersson's first season as a pro.

Andersson was adamant that he wanted to turn pro this season after leading the OHL in points for a defenceman with 60 in 2015-16 while a member of the Barrie Colts.

Fast-forward six months and the 20-year-old Swede is leading all Stockton Heat defencemen with 20 points, is tied with Mark Jankowski for second on the team in assists (17) and is sitting just behind team-leader - and the other half of Stockton's top defence pairing - Tyler Wotherspoon with a plus-14 rating.

There is no doubt that Andersson has solidified himself as not only a pro player, but one that has started to thrive at the AHL level just 43 games into his rookie season.

"The first few games were a little difficult because you don't know the league or what to expect," Andersson recalled. "Once I got a couple games under my belt and settled in, I felt like it's been better and better each game from that point.

"As a whole I've been pretty happy with where my game is at this point, but getting back in the win column is my number-one goal."

'Getting back in the win column' has been the main goal for the entire Heat roster of late, as Stockton dropped back-to-back decisions this past weekend to San Jose and Bakersfield respectively - extending Stockton's winless streak to 10 games (0-9-1-0).

However, Andersson, as well as his aforementioned blueline mate Wotherspoon, have been key contributors to the positive strides made of late towards righting the ship.

Sans an empty-net goal this past Saturday against Bakersfield, five of Stockton's last seven contests have been decided by one goal and could have easily swung in the Heat's favor with a friendly bounce or two.

Yet despite the team's recent hardships, Andersson and Wotherspoon continue to remain steadfast atop the team's plus-minus rankings - something Andersson says is positive, but doesn't supersede the goal of earning two points every night.

"I think every defenceman wants to be in the plus column, but it's not something I think about too much," Andersson explained. "[Tyler Wotherspoon] and myself have had some good games and have finished on the plus side of things more often than not.

"It's nice to be in that situation as a defence pairing, but it doesn't mean much if we're not winning as a team."

As for Wotherspoon, Andersson credits playing with the fourth-year pro for a large portion of his rookie success.

"He's a great defenceman and I have loved playing with him so far this year," Andersson said of Wotherspoon. "We're really honest with each other on the ice.

"We talk a lot and he's helped me to be more vocal out there, too.

"We play simple when we need to and we can make plays when we need to and I think that's been the real key to our games to this point."

Andersson's unteachable calmness with the puck and ability to 'slow the game down' are both rare traits to find in a rookie and are undoubtedly the first things about his game that stand out.

Meanwhile, his positioning and his toughness around his own net has flown a bit under the radar amidst his offensive numbers.

Any questions at this point about the 2015 second-rounder's ability to play at the pro level have surely been silenced.

Now it's a matter of taking that next step and earning a shot at penciling into the lineup in Calgary.


Record: 0-2-0-0; Overall: 19-21-4-1 … F Linden Vey earned his 200th and 201st AHL career points Saturday against Bakersfield with a goal and an assist … D Brett Kulak scored his second goal this season and added an assist in Stockton Saturday in his first game with the Heat since being reassigned from Calgary Friday … "It was nice to see us score some goals. It's been a long time since we've scored more than one goal in a game, but moral victories at this stage [of the season] aren't really worth all that much right now. I think it was good for a lot of guys to find the back of the net and realize and recognize that we can do that more often." - Head coach Ryan Huska on his team's four-goal second period Friday night against San Jose.


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