DETROIT — In his most recent stint at AHL Hartford before returning to the Rangers, Lias Andersson’s numbers hardly jumped off the page: two goals and six assists in 22 games.
It turns out, however, that the 20-year-old’s most important work may have come off the ice.
Andersson put an emphasis on improving his conditioning and eating the right food, and he has felt the difference in his play during six games back with the Rangers.
“I think I’m stronger and I’m faster and I’m in better shape,” Andersson, the No. 7-overall pick in 2017, said Thursday before getting back into the lineup centering the fourth line against the Red Wings. “I’m more comfortable now. I feel more fresh in my body.
“I’ve always been hard-working and I’ve focused more on the strength maybe than the conditioning part. So I went down there and really focused on the conditioning and did a lot of bike stuff. I think that helped me a lot.
“I just worked a little bit harder off the ice.”
Andersson is not the only one who has taken notice of the changes, though they may go beyond mere physical improvements. Coach David Quinn said he has seen a “completely different mindset” from the center since he was recalled two weeks ago for the third NHL stint of his young career.
“I think there’s a maturity side that’s kind of evolved since September,” Quinn said. “I think he’s got a better understanding of what it’s going to take for him to have success at this level. He has done a great job with his conditioning and his mindset and just working at his game. I just feel really good about where he’s at.”
Andersson’s development, however, has not come with a free pass regarding Quinn’s demands for a consistent 200-foot game.
After playing 9:16 in Sunday’s shootout loss to the Capitals — including just 2:16 in the third period — Andersson was a healthy scratch Tuesday against the Stars. Quinn said he had a “great conversation” that day with the Swede, who fully understood why he wasn’t playing. Andersson revealed the two had a film session, reviewing a few defensive lapses he had, including one play in which he was on the wrong side of the puck when the Capitals scored their first goal.
“We just watched video and talked a little bit about a little D-zone,” said Andersson, who came into Thursday with one goal and four assists in 27 games this season. “I understand I didn’t have a great night defensively. I just gotta clean that up a little bit.”
Even as he sat Andersson on Tuesday, Quinn gushed about the way he had been playing recently.
“He’s a much better player today than he was two and a half months ago,” Quinn said. “Give him a lot of credit for making the adjustments he’s made. They’ve done a great job with him down in Hartford.”
In a season that began with Andersson not making the team out of training camp — general manager Jeff Gorton said he preferred to get him big minutes in Hartford rather than fourth-line minutes in New York — he is focusing on a strong finish with an eye toward next year.
“It’s important,” Andersson said. “It’s important for the whole organization to build for next year and even for this year. We just gotta keep working every day, work on details. It’s a process with this team. There’s a lot of young guys. Just gotta keep working every day. The future looks bright.”