What do a 6-foot-2 Swede and a (generously) 5-foot-11 Canadian have in common? If they happen to be Joakim Andersson and Darren Helm, quite a bit, actually. Not only are both men Detroit Red Wings centers, their fates were directly linked together last season.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find two Detroit players as intertwined as the man who was being counted on as the third line center and the guy who ended up in that role for most of 2013. Andersson was the latter, of course, but will he remain in that spot going forward? Let’s see:
Looking Back at Joakim Andersson’s 2013:
Andersson’s story began in the same place many of the Wings’ young players so often do: Grand Rapids. Despite getting a five-game taste of the NHL the previous season, Andersson was on the Griffins roster when the lockout was lifted, and may have remained there most of the way if everyone stayed healthy.
That didn’t happen, and Helm’s unavailability (he played just one game all season) left a gaping hole at center. That gave Andersson a chance to join the big team, which he did in time for the February 9 home game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Playing on both of the bottom two lines between a variety of wingers, Andersson primarily contributed with checking and hard work, but he did have some offensive highlights. He scored his first NHL goal and added an assist in a losing effort against the Anaheim Ducks on February 15, and had his first two-goal game nine days later against the Vancouver Canucks. Yet he also went long stretches without finding the scoresheet, including 13 straight in March and April.
What helped stabilize his two-way play was the mostly permanent assignment of Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner as his wingers on the third line. With his linemates thinking offense, Andersson was free to do what he does best, and while his playoff numbers weren’t spectacular (one goal and four assists in 14 games), his unit was the most consistently dangerous one at times during the postseason.
Looking Ahead to 2013-14:
Despite being a restricted free agent, Andersson showed enough that he is a virtual lock to be given a new contract. Even with the signing of Stephen Weiss, the Wings’ center depth is not spectacular, and the 24-year old should be a regular even if everyone is injury-free, as he simply has more dimensions to his game than his most direct competitor for ice time, Cory Emmerton.
Once again, his spot on the depth chart would seem to hinge on Helm’s health. The expectation is that Helm will reclaim his slot on the third line if he’s able, which would bump Andersson down to a checking line role with the likes of Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves.
No Helm would likely mean Andersson on the third line once again, though with Brunner likely to sign elsewhere and Nyquist a strong possibility to move up to the top six, he’d be breaking in more new linemates there. Tomas Tatar, Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary (if he returns) are just some of the possibilities, and Mike Babcock will probably tinker as the season unfolds.
The important thing is that Andersson proved he could handle the NHL game. Expect him to be a fixture in the lineup from the get-go this fall, hopefully taking another step in his development.