It was one of the first days of the Rangers' Training Camp and Lias Andersson was saying hellos to a few people in the halls of the MSG Training Center. Someone was telling him that he looked different, and that it was good to see him again.
"Yeah, less of me," Andersson replied.
It was one of the points that Rangers President John Davidson brought up unprompted during his press conference to open Training Camp - "Lias Andersson has completely changed his body" - and it was one of the main goals that Andersson had set for himself during the summer.
After a year in which Andersson spent time shuttling between New York and Hartford, playing just over half of the regular season with the big club, the 20-year-old has come to Training Camp with the goal of showing everybody that he belongs with the Rangers for the long haul.
Well, maybe not everybody. "I don't want to show anyone except for myself and my teammates and the staff around here," Andersson told NYRangers.com. "I just want to show those people that I'm a player they can count on, that I'm serious about this, and that I want to be here."
What Andersson did over the summer is the latest indication of how serious he is about not just earning but keeping a spot in New York. Andersson, the Rangers' top pick (No. 7) in the 2017 Entry Draft, made the move overseas that season after captaining Sweden to a silver medal at the World Junior Championships. He finished out that year with the Rangers, scoring a goal in his NHL debut against the Capitals and playing in the final seven games of 2017-18, before capturing gold with Sweden at the World Championship alongside Mika Zibanejad. He followed with 42 more NHL games in 2018-19.
With the goal of playing at a leaner weight, and playing more, in 2019-20, Andersson says he not only ramped up his workout regimen over this offseason but also - and at least as importantly - overhauled his nutrition plan.
The 6-foot-1 Andersson figures he finished last season playing at around 200 pounds; right now he is at 188, which is right in the sweet spot - anywhere between 185 and 190 is where he's aiming to play. "I worked hard this summer to be in great shape," he said, "and I feel great."
Andersson has played in two of the Rangers' three preseason games so far; he scored a third-period goal in Wednesday's opener against New Jersey at the Garden, when he found a free puck among four Devils in the slot. On Saturday night in Philadelphia, he led all Ranger forwards in ice time, a good chunk of it on special teams, and turned in a strong night in the faceoff circles, including four wins from seven draws against Claude Giroux, one of the League's dominant faceoff men.
"I liked his game at Madison Square Garden the other night; I liked his game again tonight," David Quinn said after Saturday's game. "I just think he's more purposeful. I think he's got better intentions. We've talked about his conditioning: He's a little bit quicker a little bit faster, doesn't break down in shifts the way he did last year. So there's a lot to like about his game right now."
For Andersson, the benefits of his conditioning go beyond being lighter and carrying less around the rink - it's what his workouts and nutrition have done for his recovery. "I feel more fresh Day 2 than I did last year," he said. "Just better overall, feel more fresh-minded and everything. The more games I can play the more I can see, but I think that's going to be a big help."
He totaled 78 games a season ago - 42 with the Rangers, 36 with Hartford - a kind of total that was not unheard of in previous seasons for Andersson, between his Swedish club and national teams, and his move to the U.S. in the middle of 2017-18. But he said he discovered firsthand last season how a full schedule in North America, in particular the NHL, can exact a different toll.
"It's more games here, and it's more physical and a better pace," Andersson said. "You want to feel fresh every game, and if I can do something for it, and do myself and my body a favor to feel better and escape better, it's definitely worth it. I'm proud of myself that I did that this summer, and I've just got to stick with it now. Work hard every day."
"I think he's understanding the type of player he's going to need to be to have the type of success we know he's capable of having at this level," Quinn said. "I give him a lot of credit, he's put an awful lot of work into it.
"And again, I've said this an awful lot, not only about him but about our young players: People kind of lose sight of the fact that these players are kids. Just because they're in an NHL jersey or in an NHL training camp, people assume they're adults, and that's not the case. He's 20 years old now. He's made a big leap in the last year."
Quinn has mused that perhaps no NHL team's training camp presents more opportunity than the Rangers' does, and on Day 1, Davidson agreed that the center position would be the "most intriguing" area of competition in camp. The 20-year-old Andersson is not waiting for the opportunity to come to him.
"You've just got to trust your instincts and trust your skill set that you can make it, and don't be shy out there," Andersson said. "Play your game that got you here, and don't be scared or afraid out there to make a mistake or turn the puck over something - play smart but don't play scared.
"That's what I'm going to do. I feel like I can take the next step and be an impact player. And that's what I want to be."