With the expansion draft looming, there is a relatively tough decision that the Columbus Blue Jackets will have to face: Who will they protect? With David Clarkson not counting towards the seven forwards that Columbus has to protect, that leaves four spots. Two of the four spots will very likely be occupied by Brandon Saad and Cam Atkinson.
In the first article of this series, we took a look on whether or not the Blue Jackets should expose or protect William Karlsson. In the second part we took a look at the hard-skating, end-to-end forward that is Boone Jenner. Part three takes a look at one of the biggest surprise performers of the 2016-17 season, Josh Anderson.
Columbus Blue Jackets Expose or Protect: Josh Anderson
One of the most surprising players of the season was undoubtedly Josh Anderson. Anderson was somewhat of a surprise to make the team out of training camp, but the decision to bring him into the bottom six paid off in full. He played in 78 games this season, scoring 17 goals and adding 12 assists to his total.
Anderson became a bit of an enforcer in the bottom six, ensuring teams didn’t take liberties against the Blue Jackets. Despite being labeled as a bit of a tough guy and instigator, he added a solid injection of offense to a team that seriously lacked that the season before. Anderson filled a role that saw Rene Bourque and Jared Boll for much of the season before. Safe to say the offensive abilities took a major leap up from those two in 2014-15.
One of the major reasons why many of the fans were so happy with Anderson is due to the fact that the bottom six was so bad in the season before, and because of very low expectations for Anderson. Anderson had only played in 18 NHL games before this season, having one goal and for assists. At that rate, Anderson would have only finished the season with four goals and 17 assists.
That goes to show that small sample sizes, much was the case with Anderson, don’t show the true story. Anderson proved to be relatively effective in the offensive zone for a player of his status and abilities. But that wasn’t the major reason why the organization and fan base fell in love with him.
The biggest asset that Anderson brings to the organization is an intangible, and that’s his attitude. He is a hard working skater who will do what he is told to get the job needed done. Having a player like that in your bottom six, and one that can surprise with their point production, is a great asset to have.
Why Vegas Would Pick Anderson
It’s simple, really. A tough, gritty, hard working forward who has a fantastic attitude, age on his side, and a cheap contract. The Vegas Golden Knights wouldn’t be expecting Anderson to be a 30-plus point producer, and he could help the expansion franchise make a name for themselves and shore things up physically as well.
It’s safe to say that they wouldn’t expect Anderson to produce like he did this season every year, but the tools he brings to the table are solid enough to make an argument for Vegas considering taking him.
Replacements for Anderson
Josh Anderson, as harsh as this is, is very easy to replace in production. There are multiple prospects that could fill the void on the fourth line offensively left by Anderson. When looking purely at replacing his point production, you could bring in Oliver Bjorkstrand all next season, but one would hope he’s playing on a skill line rather than grinding it out against fourth liners, as that suits his play style much more than the latter.
Another name, and one who has had a tough time proving himself, is that of Sonny Milano. Milano has ability, that’s for sure, but his work ethic has come into question over the last two years. It’s because of this that he hasn’t broken the roster yet, and for that same reason he might not be the best fit for the bottom six.
You could make moves in the current roster to accommodate Markus Hannikainen, who is usually a left wing. The determining factor in that is likely how Hannikainen looks coming into camp, and how he performs in training camp as well.
The last young name would be that of Vitaly Abramov, who Fifth Liners are getting excited by. Abramov lit up the QMJHL this year with the Gatineau Olympiques, scoring 46 goals and adding 58 assists in just 66 games. He also played four games in the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters, scoring one goal and adding three assists. Abramov is an exciting prospect, but he is still likely one to two years away from seriously challenging for a spot in Columbus.
In the end, Anderson is a relatively easy name to replace on paper and in point production. His physical ability can be found in other forwards that will be testing free agency on the cheap, and while he is a fan favorite, he is an easy loss in comparison to others that could be lost in the upcoming expansion draft. He deserves the love he gets, but the Blue Jackets would be foolish to mistake love and support with being irreplaceable.