Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St-Louis addressed the media on Friday afternoon, with a healthy share of the press conference revolving around the play of veteran Josh Anderson.
Anderson, who is returning from a 2-game suspension following a dangerous hit on Golden Knights defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, has produced a decent amount of offence this season, with 3 goals and 2 assists in 12 games, but his overall game has left a lot to be desired.
When pressed upon what aspects of Anderson’s game could stand to improve, St-Louis made sure to point out his veteran winger’s strengths first and foremost.
“I don’t know if there’s anything specific,” said St-Louis. “He needs to continue to evolve as a player. He has a lot of strengths.”
St-Louis eventually acquiesced, pointing out a style issue that may be holding Anderson back.
Anderson’s status as a power forward cannot be disputed. We have ample evidence that his north-south style can be effective in many situations, but statistically speaking, it has not meshed very well with St-Louis’ system, or rather, his concepts.
“Josh has a lot of speed,” said St-Louis. “But you don’t need to go 100 miles per hour all the time in every shift, because sometimes you’ll miss your exit. I think he’s improved a lot in that respect. He’s controlling his speed. We want him to play with speed, but it’s about knowing when to speed up and slow down, to control the game. It’s not just about going where he wants to go, but rather going to where he should be.”
The clash in the style of play was particularly evident when Josh Anderson was used on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.
Together, the trio controlled just 15 percent of the high-danger chances, a number that has jumped to 50 percent now that Kirby Dach has taken his place.
Anderson’s north-south style of play mitigated the scoring chances Suzuki and Caufield tend to generate off the cycle. The pair is at its best when they have control of the puck in the offensive zone. It leads to sustained pressure, which eventually turns into goals.
That wasn’t the case with Anderson.
“We’re trying to help every player become more complete,” said St-Louis. “So they have a better chance to become more productive on the ice. Not necessarily in production, but their overall impact on the team.”
St-Louis is referencing Anderson’s underlying numbers, which have been among the worst on the team since the start of the year in key statistical categories such as shot control and high-danger scoring chance control.
There’s definitely room for improvement, seeing as Anderson has produced much better numbers in the past, but beyond the lack of chemistry with his linemates this season, the 28-year-old knows he needs to do his part.
“I don’t think I’m generating enough shots right now,” said Anderson.
Anderson is currently taking 5.8 shots per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, the lowest shot rate since his rookie year with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The question remains, can Anderson fit into the new identity the Canadiens have established, one that focuses on puck control rather than chances off the rush?
“For so many years I’ve played my game,” he said. “I’m trying to learn new aspects, to be a different player and bring more things. That’ll not only help me but my linemates out there, and that will hopefully contribute a little more. There’s a fine line. You don’t want to lose the game you’re used to playing, but it takes time. You have to stay on it and continue to learn.”
There’s still time to learn, however, there’s also the matter of statistical primes.
Most forwards peak around the age of 23, and then see a significant collapse in numbers once they start to approach 30 years old.
These statistical primes are simply averages, which means some players will buck the trend and surpass all expectations into their 30s, as was the case with Shea Weber.
But Anderson is already showing signs he’s slowing down, not just when it comes to his underlying numbers, but his overall production as well.
With 5 years left on a contract that carries a $5.5 million annual average value, Kent Hughes may want to start making calls to his fellow general managers, to gauge the interest in Josh Anderson.
His play may be declining, but he still carries a solid reputation around the league given his style of play, a reputation that may just entice a team competition for a playoff spot to add the rough-and-tumble forward to their lineup.
But with the way things are going, that reputation will not last long.