GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
– The Red Wings expected Swedish center Joakim Andersson
to be a solid defensive presence when he arrived in western Michigan three years ago.
Then came the superlative 50-point performance as Andersson added a new offensive dimension to his game during the 2011-12 AHL campaign.
“I think I took a big step last year. I got a bigger role on the team and found some confidence, offensive-wise,” said Andersson, who produced career-highs in goals (21), assists (30) and points (51). “The first year that I played here and the last couple of years in Sweden, I was in a defensive role on a lot of penalty kill and on third and fourth line.
“Last year I got a chance to play on the top line and that’s what I want to keep doing with the two-way game and work hard. That’s how I like to play hockey.”
Andersson’s offensive numbers took off after he was paired with Swedish wingers Gustav Nyquist and Fabian Brunnstrom. Nyquist and Andersson will likely play together again once the season starts with Friday’s home opener against Milwaukee. However, the Griffins need to find a new winger to replace Brunnstrom, who returned to Sweden where he’s playing for Andersson’s former team in Frölunda.
The Swedish line finished on a hot streak, producing 18-points on the Griffins’ 20-goals during a season-long, five-game winning streak in March.
Red Wings officials predict that Andersson, with his big body (6-foot-2, 206-pounds) and really good hockey instincts, will eventually be a third- or fourth-line center at the NHL level. The club’s third-round pick in the 2007, Andersson made his NHL debut last December when fellow Swede Tomas Holmstrom went down with a sore groin.
Andersson was one of four prospects – along with forwards Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan, and defenseman Brendan Smith – who made their NHL debuts with the Red Wings last season. Andersson played five games with the Wing, and though he didn’t score, he did make a good impression on his new Griffins coach.
“Andersson has been a great player down here, (and) ready to maybe take a big step, offensively,” said first-year Griffins coach Jeff Blashill, who was a Wings assistant last season. “He’s somebody who does a lot of little things right, which will help him get to the NHL. But how good is he going to be once he gets there will be determined by what type of year he can have, and can he really start to put up some big numbers, offensively.”
Andersson, 23, hopes to learn a lot from his new coach, who has a history of teaching young players at the college and junior levels.
“I met him last year when I was up playing for the Red Wings … so I got to know him a little bit,” Andersson said. “I’ve had a talk here with him and he seems to be a good coach, and he’s been in college before so he knows what it’s like to work with the young guys.”
Before last season, Andersson’s most accomplished work was, arguably, on the international stage with his national team, winning a pair of silver medals in the World Junior Championship and a bronze in the under-18 juniors in 2007.
“Those were good experiences for sure against all of the best guys on all of the national teams,” Andersson said. “Those were good experiences with some good Swedish guys on those four teams, like Magnus Paajarvi, Patrik Berglund in St. Louis and a couple of more guys. If that helps me here, I don’t know, it probably does.”
Andersson’s leadership skills will certainly continue to help him with his development in Grand Rapids. Picked by teammates to wear an associate captain’s ‘A’ on his jersey midway through last season, Andersson’s coach hopes to see more of the same from the big center.
“Joakim leads by example, and he does everything right in practice,” Blashill said. “He’s the first guy starting the drills and working hard, really reminiscent of what you see in Detroit. He’s not a real vocal, vocal leader, but he has a presence about him and I think everybody respects him.”
It helps that Andersson relishes the leadership role, and covets the team’s captaincy position, which hasn’t been determined yet.
“I would love that. I like responsibility,” he said. “I usually grow with that a lot, and I felt that same way last year when I got that letter on my jersey. I grew as a player and as a person, so I would like that. Some guys don’t like that and some guys don’t care if they do wear a letter or not, but for me it’s a big thing.”
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