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Frederik Andersen: one very unusual hockey career

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With the trade and signing of Frederik Andersen as the new Leafs' starting goaltender, it's time for Leaf fans to get to know his history.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It all started in Herning

Andersen was born in Herning, Denmark, and he will turn 27 just before this season gets underway. Like most Danish players of note, he played in Sweden before moving to the NHL, but he began his career in his home town playing for Herning IK, where he was on the roster of the youth teams from the age of 15.

The club is the Andersen family business. Frederik's father Ernst Andersen was also a goalie and played for the men's team from the mid-eighties through to 2002. Younger brother Sebastian is a defenceman for Herning Blue Fox, and younger sister Amalie played one year there before moving to one of the best teams in the Riksserien for next year, Linköping HC, on a junior contract. He also has a couple of uncles and a cousin who have played with various Herning teams.

Herning is a small city. Denmark is a small country, having a population just under 6 million, which is fewer than the number of people that live in the GTA. Herning has just 50,000 people in the city and its suburbs, which puts it on a par with Cornwall or North Bay in Ontario.

Given that, it might be a surprise that Herning Blue Fox, the top league men's team from Herning IK, is a highly successful team with 16 Danish championships to their name.

The Danish league is small too, and is not on par with other European leagues, rating as a semi-professional league that pays only some of the players. There have been only 12 Danish players ever to play in the NHL.

Early Years

At age 17 in 2006-2007, Frederik played for Herning's second division men's team, appearing in 18 games. He also played for their U20 team, appearing in 27 games.

That year he played on Denmark's national U18 team for the second time. Denmark was in Division I-B of the IIHF U18 tournament, and they won promotion to the top level tournament after going undefeated and allowing only six goals in five games. Andersen appeared in four games and dominated the goaltender statistics with a save percentage of .937.

Denmark's U20 team was in an identical position, playing in the second division where they too won promotion to the main junior tournament the next year. Andersen was on the roster for that team, but did not play.

In 2007-2008, he split his time between the same two club teams in Herning and went to the World Junior Championships, where things didn't go quite so well for Denmark as they had in the lower division. They lost every game, finished last, and rode the relegation elevator right back down to Division I. Andersen had the worst save percentage in the tournament at .854.

In 2008-2009, now 19, he moved up to play in Denmark's top league for Herning Blue Fox, where he did well. In the WJC Division I tournament at home in Denmark, the team missed promotion by one point on a 8-3 drubbing by tournament winner Austria. Andersen was in net for that match, but overall in the tournament he was good but not spectacular like he'd been two years before in the U18. He was struggling to bring his game up to the level of tougher competition.

In 2009, he moved to a new and better team for league play, the Fredrikshaven White Hawks. He played more minutes and had a .932 save percentage in 30 regular season games. He got his first taste of the playoffs, where he also did well.

He played for Denmark in two games in the IIHF World Championships, his first international men's competition where he actually played, and he was not good.

That pedigree was enough to get him selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the seventh round of the 2010 draft at the age of nearly 21. He never signed a contract with Carolina, and re-entered the draft two years later.

He played another season for the White Hawks, played in the World Championships again, and then in 2011, he went to Sweden to play for Frölunda in the Elitserien (now called the SHL).

Suddenly on the best team he'd ever played on, against the toughest competition he'd ever faced, he put up a save percentage of .943, led the league in all goalie categories, and broke the league shutout record previously held by Henrik Lundqvist. He was nominated for rookie of the year losing out to Johan Larsson, now of the Buffalo Sabres.

His world had changed completely.

North American Career

In the 2012 entry draft, he was taken 87th overall by Anaheim. They signed him to an ELC with an AAV of $1,775,000 at the age of 23.

He spent one year in the AHL where he played 47 games, was sixth in the league in save percentage, second amongst goalies with more than 1,500 minutes and played on a very bad team. The Norfolk Admirals that year had three decent scorers: Patrick Maroon, Sami Vatanen and Peter Holland.

Andersen's stat line in the AHL was nearly identical to fellow rookie Niklas Svedberg of the Providence Bruins (who is one month older), save that Svedberg had goal scorers on his team and won a lot more games. Svedberg had five years in Swedish pro hockey behind him and ultimately played 19 mediocre games for the Boston Bruins before leaving for the KHL. As an object lesson in not using small samples of save percentage as a forecasting tool, this is a good one.

In 2013, Andersen became a full-time NHL player. He made only 28 starts behind Jonas Hiller, who was not as good. The rookie John Gibson had three starts with excellent results that year, and looking back, the writing was already on the wall for Andersen. He'd barely begun his NHL career for the Ducks, but he wasn't trusted to play ahead of the clearly inferior Hiller, while his replacement was already nipping at his heels.

After Hillier left as a UFA to go to Calgary in 2014, Andersen became the Ducks' starter for the next two years, playing in 97 games plus 21 playoff games.

Prior to the 2015 playoff meeting between Andersen and his old teammate Hiller, Andersen was described thus:

When he's on: Andersen beats plays on his feet, establishing each new save position with a priority on angle first before adding depth, making sure he is set before the shot is taken.

When he's off: Andersen gets caught moving, sometimes with little lateral shuffles off the rush or with forward sculls to add depth on end-zone plays. When that happens, he doesn't get set and ends up reaching with his hands and trying to catch up to high shots with his head, opening holes.

After his disappointing performance in the 2015 playoffs against Chicago he set about improving his fitness and technical tracking skills.

This chart maps his 2015-16 performance on the Ducks against the average of goalies making the kind of money Toronto will be paying him. The result shows that usually a goalie making that much is older, plays a lot more, but isn't actually producing better results. Andersen's results after his summer of work were very good, but they did include a rough patch during the season where he dipped down to his previous year's level for a while.

Unfortunately, a concussion at the end of the season meant he missed the first two games of the playoffs, and while he played very well in the subsequent five games, the Ducks scoring dried up at the wrong time, and they exited the playoffs in the first round.

At the NHL Awards held this month, Andersen shared with John Gibson the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalie who plays for the team with the fewest goals against in the regular season. The last thing he did as a Duck was accept the trophy.

At nearly 27, Andersen has a career that reads like a much younger man's. It remains to be seen if that will add to his longevity or not, but he comes to Toronto with a very light injury record.

He is also somewhat of a mystery. He's played enough NHL minutes to appear to be at least a league average starter, which means he's one of the top 20 goalies in the NHL. He has a history of overcoming difficulties well, and he shows a propensity to surge in effectiveness on better teams.

The Ducks, leading the league in goals against which is not just a goalie trick, are a very different team from the Babcock Leafs. In this past season, Anaheim was fourth in Corsi Against per 60 minutes with 50.54, while Toronto was 18th with 55.49.

Anaheim is renowned for their high-end defence. They are so high-end in fact, that the budget conscious Ducks had to trade Andersen to make room to keep that effective defence corps together. Toronto's young and improving group might make Andersen's life a little more difficult, but he can be assured they'll be more than two Leafs potting more goals than Peter Holland.

The Leafs were generating offence last year at a rate to rank them the third highest in the league. Given their scoring woes, it's easy to forget that the single best area of their play was generating shots for. And a hot offence that can score goals is a goalie's best friend.

Anaheim, who spent the first half of the season flirting with the bottom of the standings, were not generating any offence. They improved enough to finish ninth in Corsi For per 60 minutes, but their team shooting percentage was third worst in the league. Only Toronto and Buffalo had a a harder time putting the puck in the net.

The expectation for the Leafs in the coming year is that that offence will get even hotter as the team gets younger. What that will do to the defensive system and how Andersen will cope with that, is a good question. But it pays to remember that he's spent his entire life playing on a national team that is always reaching beyond its grasp.

Whatever happens, it will be exciting to watch the very young Leafs with their new starting goaltender who is younger than his age.

Career stats