With the right side done last week, we now shift across the ice to the left side of the Kings blueline this week, with the four players who logged regular minutes this season.
This morning, we begin with rookie defenseman Mikey Anderson, who performed as pretty much anything but a rookie this season. Anderson had just 6 NHL games to his name entering training camp, but found himself slotted on the top pairing, alongside Drew Doughty, by the fourth game of the season, the tenth of his career with the Kings. Outside of a couple of games missed due to injury, Anderson spent nearly the entire season spent in that role, earning plenty of admirers, including Doughty, in the process.
“We decided as a staff that Mikey was a good fit for Drew by the way he played,” Assistant Coach Trent Yawney said. “Drew likes to have the puck. With defensive pairs, some guys work, and some guys don’t. With Mikey, his defending was his strong suit and that matched well with Drew…Drew plays the game against the top players on every team and we felt that Mikey could handle it. We wanted to see, but in order to see it we had to give him that responsibility and he’s grabbed it and ran with it. As the games have gone on here, you can just tell that it’s a good fit for both.”
NHL Statline – 54 games played, 1 goal, 10 assists, even rating, 30 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Without) – CF% – 48.9% (+1.7%), SCF – 44.9% (-0.3%), HDCF – 48.8% (+4.9%)
Anderson will never be a player who is defined by raw statistics. He isn’t known for his offensive game, but he does a heck of a lot of things well, things that help a team win hockey games. That’s how Anderson projects, even as his offensive game continues to evolve. As an inexperienced player entering the season, Anderson hardly feels as such exiting it, having played a substantial role on the backend during his rookie campaign.
Trending Up – Starting with the basics, Anderson played A LOT this season. The Minnesota native led all first-year defensemen in total time on ice, including at even strength and while shorthanded. Anderson’s 19:05 even strength TOI per game was fifth most amongst rookie defensemen over the last ten years, with his total TOI ranking inside the Top 15. An impressive feat.
Anderson also did a great job of taking care of his own end this season. Among Kings defensemen, just Doughty had a lower rate of shot attempts and high-danger chances against than Anderson did. On a per-60 minute basis, the Kings allowed nearly seven fewer attempts with Anderson on the ice than off it. On an observational note, Anderson’s ability to break up plays with his stick defensively was excellent, felt like every other game he denied an odd-man rush with a crafty play. All impressive, considering we’re talking about a 21-year-old defenseman, playing against the division’s top players on a nightly basis.
While he is unlikely to receive serious buzz around the Calder Trophy this season, Anderson was frequently featured on NHL.com’s Trophy Tracker, as one of a handful of rookies in the Pacific Division meriting conversation around the league’s top rookie. Looking at this season’s crop of first-year defensemen, it wouldn’t be a surprise though to see Anderson be considered for the league’s All-Rookie Team. Anderson was recognized locally, voted as the Kings “Best Newcomer” by local media.
Lastly, Anderson excelled as a communicator this season, both on and off the ice. Since you can’t measure that by any statistic, we’ll have to take Doughty’s word for it. The veteran praised Anderson’s on-ice communication skills, with both players calling communication one of the pairing’s strengths this season. Doughty said that not only does Anderson talk and ask for feedback, but he’s also not afraid to give it, something Doughty respected. In the locker room, Doughty brought up Anderson’s willingness to talk in the room, at a young age, during his own season-ending interview.
“One thing with Mikey is that this guy’s like already talking in our dressing room at intermission,” Doughty said. “He’s already one of the more vocal, probably one of the top three vocal guys on our team already, and to say that about a young guy like that, that’s basically unheard of. Mikey’s a great pro already, I mean many years above what his age actually is.”
Trending Down – It’s nice when a player does your job for you. In his end-of-season interview, Anderson highlighted two key areas in which he’d most like to improve over the summer – strength and offense.
“I’m still a young guy and I need to continue to develop physically, put on some more muscle, have a good summer in the weight room,” he said. “Coming back, I’d like to stick with the defending I had all year, but as time goes on, I’d like to contribute more offensively, be able to make a couple of more plays, try to pitch in a little bit more on that front. I still think the big one is continue to develop and get a good summer in the weight room.”
There were times throughout the season where Anderson was outmuscled by larger forwards. Anderson has an excellent defensive stick and top-level hockey sense, which makes him an effective defender, but strength is strength and a big summer in the weight room, as noted, will help develop the defensive side of his game even more.
In terms of offensive play, Anderson wasn’t necessarily counted on to produce offensively this season, but certain plays, certain traits lead you to believe there might be more to come in that category. Among regular defensemen, Anderson was ahead of just Olli Maatta in terms of attempts for and scoring-chances for per 60 minutes. An area of emphasis this offseason, also as noted.
2021-22 Status – Anderson has one season remaining on his three-year, entry-level contract. The progress he’s made across the first two seasons puts him in a great place to continue his upward trajectory during what will be his second full season at the NHL level.
While lineup positions are generally useless to predict in June, Anderson has certainly put in an impressive resume to retain his spot on the top pairing in the fall. If Doughty has anything to say about it, that’s exactly where he would line up.
“I don’t want someone, I like playing with Mikey Anderson,” Doughty said in his exit interview. “I love playing with Mikey Anderson. We’ve developed quite the partnership. I mean, I don’t think we need to bring anyone in to play with me.”
Time will tell exactly where Anderson’s position in the lineup will be, but a pretty great endorsement to have heading into the summer.