Joey Anderson learned early in his playing career that good things happen to those willing to win puck battles in all areas of the ice.
It's a formula that has not only afforded the 20-year-old New Jersey Devils right wing an opportunity to play at the highest level but have some success while earning the respect of teammates.
Anderson said combative games against his younger brother, Michael Anderson (Los Angeles Kings), when he was 5 years old on their backyard rink in Roseville, Minnesota, was what benefitted him most.
"I can't think of a time when I was most mad, more excited and more vicious in my life than when me and my brother played in the backyard," Joey Anderson said. "There were fist-fights. There was never a victory celebration for the winner. It was more about who could get to the house fastest to lock the door behind you before the other guy got there because you knew he was trying to kill you because he was so mad he lost.
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"But 20 minutes later we'd be like, 'Want to play again?' and we'd go at it all day. I think that's where my competitive nature comes from."
Anderson has three points (two goals, one assist) in 23 games and leads Devils rookies with at least 10 games played in average ice time (12:31). He has 27 hits and New Jersey controls 48.32 of all shot attempts when he's is on the ice, the highest of any Devils rookie.
"He's received more teaching and coaching and, with an opportunity to play, he's gotten better," coach John Hynes said. "He's very competitive on the puck, smart, and his attention to detail is excellent. We think he's made more plays with the puck. It's not like I need to see this big thing from him, but it's more with the consistency with how he's playing now.
"He's feeling more comfortable at this pace and in this league."
Anderson (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), selected in the third round (No. 73) of the 2016 NHL Draft and signed to a three-year, entry-level contract April 15, had 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 36 games as a sophomore to help the University of Minnesota-Duluth to the NCAA Div. I national championship last season. He's been able to adjust to every level he's played in short order.
"Every game I've taken steps forward and while I'm going to make mistakes, the mistakes I've made haven't been too big and I've learned from them," Anderson said. "I feel I've been hard on pucks and doing some of the foundation things I want to do. I think I just keep getting more consistent in that regard so hopefully it continues."
Anderson learned plenty in his two seasons (2014-16) with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team. He also represented the United States in several international events, including the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship and 2018 WJC.
He won a gold medal in 2017 on a line with left wing Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes) and center Colin White (Ottawa Senators), and a bronze medal while captain last January.
"He's probably one of my favorite linemates, ever," Keller said. "He works really hard and he goes to the dirty areas. We skated on the same line for two years at the NTDP and I loved playing with him. The thing is Joey can play any role on a team. He can be effective on the first line or the fourth line."
Anderson is currently playing a third-line role with center Michael McLeod and Nick Lappin.
"I think Joey's work ethic has always been high but now he's kind of reading the game a little better and it seems he's settling in and starting to make more plays," forward Blake Coleman said. "That comes with time and understanding how fast the game is. He's really starting to round out his game with a little more offensive upside too, and if he can keep that going, he'll be a player in this league for a long time."
Hynes has been happy with Anderson's work ethic and productivity when tasked with a specific role, especially on a team hit hard by injuries. Anderson has also proven to be an effective penalty killer with one goal, four blocked shots and one takeaway while shorthanded.
"Joey is extremely competitive on the puck," Hynes said. "He doesn't lose many battles at the puck and I think now he's getting more and more comfortable offensively. That's the thing, understanding his time and space, and using his talent. He's got a good shot. Those are the things as a player gets more experience and feels comfortable with their game, that sometimes you see that part of their game go in the right direction."