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Andersen constantly looking for ways to improve

Maple Leafs new No. 1 goaltender is student of the game

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- There are few absolutes in the world of goaltending, rarely one "right" way to stop a puck. So to claim with any certainty that one style of goaltender is guaranteed to succeed behind a specific system, or that one personality is perfectly suited to mesh with a new coach or survive increased scrutiny in a hockey-mad media market seems foolish.

That being said, there is a lot to like about the Toronto Maple Leafs acquisition of Frederik Andersen on Tuesday from the Anaheim Ducks, and the faith in his ability to be a No.1 that led to signing him to a five-year contract.

It starts with Andersen's desire to keep improving in a position that is constantly evolving.

Whether it was how he trained his eyes, body or mind, if there was something the 26-year-old thought might make him a better goaltender, Andersen acted on it in Anaheim.

"All you can do is present it to them, lead them to it, and if they take it, they take it," Ducks goaltending coach Dwayne Roloson said of Andersen during the 2014-15 season. "He has taken everything and taken it to the next level."

Video: Maple Leafs acquire goaltender Frederik Andersen

That includes seeking out the hitting coach of baseball's Los Angeles Angels a couple summers ago to learn how the sports vision exercises that helped Albert Pujols hit a baseball could help him see the puck better. It also includes dropping 25 pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame, adding muscle and reducing his body fat by one-third after realizing following his first rookie camp with the Ducks that he needed to improve his conditioning. Instead of using his return ticket to Denmark that summer, he spent the rest of it in California working with Roloson's former fitness coach Scot Prohaska, a nationally recognized strength training consultant.

"It was an investment in myself," Andersen said during his second season, "And it paid off."

Andersen continued to make those investments after he'd established himself in Anaheim.

Andersen flew to Toronto last September to take part in the annual Player Media Tour, then continued on to Halifax, Nova Scotia, instead of going straight back to Anaheim. He spent a week working with goaltending consultant Lyle Mast of OR Sports on puck tracking and head trajectory, a relatively new philosophy and focus he thought could help his game.

With the Maple Leafs, Andersen will find a kindred spirit in goaltending coach Steve Briere, who like his mentor, Washington Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn, leaves no stone unturned when it comes to finding ways to help goaltenders improve existing skills. In addition to already-existing synergies with Andersen's training in terms of on-ice puck tracking and off-ice sports vision exercises, Briere uses everything from white pucks with numbers on them to full-sized shot-blocking mannequins on skates that he hooks up to a pulley system to imitate moving screens, and his desire to always find new ways to get better should fit Andersen's preferences perfectly.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Andersen denies Wilson's backhander

As for how Andersen's style might translate in Toronto, the strength of his technical approach should provide a level of consistency that is sometimes missing in goalies who rely more heavily on skill. Not that he doesn't also possess the latter, but even when he's not feeling great, Andersen's efficient movements and mostly neutral positioning keep his big body square in the middle of the net, forcing shooters to beat him rather than beating himself. He handles and passes the puck like a third defenseman, moves well on his knees, and, after one season in the Swedish Hockey League, he arrived in North America with post-integration tactics already ahead of many NHL peers.

There are bound to be ups and downs in the evolution to No.1, especially as Andersen, who Roloson used to have to kick off the ice at times, learns to balance managing his game with extra work in practice and the need to rest between starts. But as more of a technician, Andersen should be less reliant on rhythm than some flow-and-timing goalies, and he skates well enough to adjust to the biggest tactical change he'll likely be asked to make in Toronto.

Talking to goalies that played for him before, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock takes pride in letting them focus on the shooter because they trust the system and their teammates to take care of back-door plays. There has been a desire for aggressive positioning as a result, especially against chances off the rush. James Reimer played further out under Babcock than at any other point in his career, and backed up soon after being traded to the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 27. Andersen's size should negate the need to play much beyond the edge of his crease, but he worked outside the blue ice at times in Anaheim and is mobile enough to recover that extra distance when lateral plays do get through.

As for handling Babcock's sometimes blunt assessments of his goaltending in the media or the extra attention that results from that in a hockey-mad Canadian market, Andersen shrugged off a back-and-forth rotation with John Gibson under former Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who was known for being unpredictable in his goaltending decisions. He seemed unfazed by not getting the first start in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, returning to the net facing a 2-0 series deficit and posting a .947 save percentage before losing in Game 7 to the Nashville Predators.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm5: Andersen makes big kick save on Josi

Maybe that's because, like everything else about the position, Andersen also looks for ways to improve his mental approach, including work with Anaheim's sports psychologist.

"Your brain should work like a muscle, and you can train it," Andersen said last season. "Same with your eyes; it doesn't all come naturally. You want to find all those small edges."

Andersen's desire to investigate all those edges is one more reason the Maple Leafs believe they made the right choice for their No.1 goaltender, now and in the future.

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