Joey Anderson played a single NHL game last season. In it, he was +1, took a penalty, and played slightly under 10 minutes. That’s about all the hockey most of us saw him play as a member of the Maple Leafs organization.
Anderson recorded 18 NHL games in 2019/2020, and 34 more in 2018/2019, all with the New Jersey Devils. While the Leafs forward roster was always going to be harder to crack than New Jersey’s, Anderson was probably disappointed to only receive a single NHL game, even if that was always the likely outcome.
Anderson had a disadvantage in his fight for a tail-end roster spot, which was his waiver-exemption. He could be sent down to the Marlies without risking being lost. Other players, such as Nic Petan, Travis Boyd, and Jimmy Vesey could not, which helped them rack up games in the early parts of the season. As it turned out, Boyd and Vesey were eventually lost on waivers, replaced by Alex Galchenyuk and a host of other rotating players. But at that point, the bottom of the Leafs roster was simply too crowded for Anderson, especially with the trade deadline resulting in the Leafs bolstering their forward corps further (to mixed results, to put it kindly).
So instead, Anderson plied his trade on the Toronto Marlies, recording 11 points (7 goals) in 20 games at the AHL level. On the Marlies, he primarily played a top 6 role, which is the bare minimum acceptable role for a 23 year old who plans on making the NHL.
Anderson still has two more years on his contract, at $750,000 per year. He will be an RFA with arbitration rights when his contract expires, and he will also hope that this is the year he can start building a case as a full-time NHLer on a non-rebuilding team.
Once again, it won’t be terribly easy for him. It seems as though Kyle Dubas collects replacement level NHL forwards with the same gusto that the Leafs collect embarrassing first round losses. The waiver rules are meant to avoid teams hoarding NHL level talent in the minors, and the Leafs are perennially doing a waiver-dance with their collection of eight different fourth-line players as a result.
There are already 13 players with more recent NHL experience on the Leafs forward roster than Anderson: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Alexander Kerfoot, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, David Kämpf, Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, and Michael Bunting. If the Leafs go 14F/7D/2G in terms of roster allocation, that leaves a scratch spot available for Anderson, with the possibility to get some game time when injury inevitably strikes. However, it’s also not a lot of margin for error for him. If Nick Robertson takes a leap, he’s on the outside. If Kyle Dubas acquires another forward, he’s on the outside. And what that means is that this training camp is really important for Anderson to put himself ahead of the other guys on the fringe of the Leafs roster.
One thing in his favour this year is that he’s on the right side of that waivers line; if the Leafs don’t keep him on their main roster, 31 other teams will get the chance to add him. What sort of player will they get if they do?
Joey Anderson, the Player
So far, all we’ve really discussed is Anderson’s standing on the roster, and the glut of players he’s in a group with. What do we know about how he is on the ice?
His NHL track record is more than a year old at this point, so that makes us less certain of how well that will translate to what he is now, to say nothing of the fact that his NHL games were on a Devils team that was in full ‘play the kids, see what they have’ mode. But for whatever it’s worth, his NHL time showed some promise. In his age 21 season (2019/2020), he seemed to gain the trust of interim head coach Alain Nasreddine. His TOI grew notably through his 18-game stint, and unusually for a young player, he was used in defensively important situations, and against competition that normally outstripped the linemates he was playing with.
This was not the case in his NHL showing the year prior, and is genuinely quite interesting and unusual growth for a young player who wasn’t touted as a blue chip prospect at any point.
Just as interestingly, his results in those 18 games were actually rather good. Now, it’s 18 games on a bad team playing out the string. It’s not time to plan the parade and say we’ve found the next Jere Lehtinen. But it’s interesting usage and results in his last meaningful NHL sample. From reading reports of his play at that time, the common phrases that leap out are that Anderson plays a simple game within his own abilities, and is diligent in doing the little things over the course of a hockey game (hard on pucks, engaged as a forechecker, uses his speed to harass opponents, etc.). All of which are platitudes, but you can see how he might endear himself to coaches based on that description.
As for how he looked in the Marlies... I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know, I didn’t watch the Marlies. His numbers don’t look phenomenal at that level; I don’t think there’s much hope of him being an offensive difference maker at the NHL level, from the statline and the scouting reports. The upside is that he can be a useful part of a shut-it-down depth line that can eat up some minutes against higher-end lines and free up your team’s stars to go to town on the opposing depth. We’ll see if he can realize it this year.
How We Voted
Anderson holds steady in the ranking from last winter. Ordinarily, with a new draft coming in after him, this would indicate some positive progression, despite staying in the same spot. However, the Leafs didn’t introduce any blue-chippers into the prospect pool, and in fact, have graduated William Nylander from this list. So if anything, staying at the same rank is more indicative of a small backwards step as a prospect, as opposed to a small forward step.
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What Voters Have to Say
Katya: Anderson was sent to the AHL and never given a sniff of the NHL for one very simple reason — waiver exemption. He was brought onto the Leafs as the sort of player they think they can improve because they believe their development system is the best, and that’s what a year in the AHL was all about. This coming training camp was always when he needed to make himself into an option or into an AHLer. And so far, given his history, and his somewhat rocky AHL season, he looks like he could play on a fourth line that wasn’t already spoiled for choices. But is there more there? I ranked him with the low minute NHLers, and skitched him up for being 1.5 years younger than Dermott and Malgin. I don’t think there’s a lot more, though.
Hardev (from this piece): I really like the line with SDA, Robertson, and Anderson. Robertson and SDA are pretty lethal from the wings, especially with a good puck-moving defenseman like Duszak or Hollowell between them. Anderson made a really good net-front guy who could find open spaces at the right time, or tip pucks and get dirty in front of the net. All three are fast, agile players who work extremely hard and can move fluidly in all three zones. It means they can cover for each other, create outlets for passes up the ice, or seams in and around the net. They play a real Leafs system; always moving, always attacking in from the outside with a priority on owning the top of the zone but also being there to win board battles.