The Journey: Defensemen on the Rise

by Brad Phillips on July 21, 2018

                                                                        Rasmus Andersson, Photo Courtesy NHL.com

 

In last week’s installment, I took a look at some prospect forwards that I felt had the potential to break out in 2018-19. This week it’s the defensemen’s turn.

 

Devon Toews  – NYI

 

Toews is a guy that I’m really rooting for, and not just because I have him on my team in one of my leagues. He’s really evolved tremendously over the past few seasons and has earned a shot at the NHL level.  Toews competed in the BCHL for two seasons with the Surrey Eagles where he led all defensemen in scoring on a point per game basis during his second year in the league with 47 points in 48 contests. He headed to Quinnipiac University and was drafted in 2014 after a freshman campaign which saw him post 17 points for the Bobcats and finished second on the team in blueliner scoring. His number took a step forward in his draft+1 year as he scored four times and added 16 helpers in 31 games, increasing his point per game average by 40% going from 0.46 in year one to 0.64 in year number two. Toews hit new heights during his junior year, establishing collegiate career highs across the board with seven goals, 23 assists and 30 points.

 

Toews led Quinnipiac defensemen in scoring and finished fifth in the NCAA in scoring by defensemen. He also ranked top five in plus-minus with a plus-27 and finished tied for fourth in assists. It turned out this would be his final year at the college level as he signed his entry-level deal. Staring out in the AHL his rookie year turned out to be something of a revelation. Playing in every game for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Toews scored five times and dished out an impressive 40 helpers which topped the Sound Tigers and led all first-year AHL players. This impressive year led to an AHL All-Star berth where he won the fastest skater competition, and was named to the AHL All-Rookie team. His sophomore professional year started out right where he left off as Toews posted 22 points in 30 games but a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season.

He signed a new two-year deal this week with the biggest news being that it’s a one-way deal. Most people looking at the Islanders defensive prospects will be focussed on Ryan Pulock and Sebastian Aho who made his debut last season. But sleep on Toews at your own peril.

 

Gustav Forsling – CHI

 

With the Blackhawks two top horses on the back end not getting any young and starting to slow down, especially Brent Seabrook, the next wave is already being assembled. While Hawks fans wait for the arrival of first rounders Henri Jokiharju and Nicolas Beaudin, one shouldn’t overlook Gustav Forsling. Having just turned 22, Forsling is already embarking on his third professional North American season after being brought over in a one-for-one swap with Vancouver in exchange for Adam Clendening.

 

His first year in the organization, 2016-17, Forsling split the year fairly evenly between the NHL and AHL. Down on the farm with the Rockford IceHogs, Forsling played in 30 games, putting up eight points and an ugly minus-13. He spent 38 games in the Windy City playing in a bottom-pairing role and his numbers reflected that, posting just a pair of goals and three helpers. 2017-18 saw the timeshare slanted a little more in favour of NHL duty as Forsling spent the better part of the first four months of the year with the Hawks. He played in 41 contests and nearly tripled his point production from the previous year to the tune of three goals and 10 helpers while averaging 19 minutes a night. This included a stretch of 16 games in the middle of the year that saw him regularly playing in excess of 20 minutes a night, topping out at 27. The Swede was sent down to Rockford towards the end of January to finish out the campaign where he registered 10 points combined in 31 combined regular season and playoff games.

Forsling’s inching closer to becoming a full-time NHLer and 2018-19 just might be the year he does it.  I firmly believe there’s more to his game than what he’s shown so far and think a breakout is just around the corner.

 

Rasmus Andersson – CAL

A second-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2015, Andersson has quietly been going about his business and working his way up the prospect ranks. In two seasons with the Barrie Colts in the OHL, Andersson put together back-to-back campaigns of 60 points or more and was named to the Second All-Star team in 2014-15, followed by a First Team All-Star nod in 2015-15 that also saw him lead all OHL defenders in both assists (51) and points (60). From there he headed to the Stockton Heat of the AHL where he’s continued to excel. His rookie pro year saw Andersson post 22 points in 54 games with the Heat and at the end of the 2016-17 NHL season, he got into his first NHL game. This past year saw Andersson lead all Stockton defensemen in scoring with 39 points, tied for the team lead in assists, and had the top plus-minus mark with a plus-20. Among all AHL defenders, he finished eighth in scoring and was 10th in points per game, averaging 0.7. He was one of two Stockton player (Andrew Mangiapane being the other) to represent the team in the 2018 AHL All-Star game. As a reward for an excellent year, Andersson spent the last month of the year with Calgary, playing the final nine games of the year in a bottom pair role. With 11 NHL games thus far under his belt, he still has yet to record his first point.

 

He’s probably not breaking into the top four in the near future given the contract situation, but as the top right-handed defender on the depth chart, he’s knocking on the door for some extended NHL duty.

 

**

 

As always thanks for checking out this week’s edition of The Journey. Thanks to eliteprospects.com, hockey-reference.com and collegehockeyinc.com for the statistics. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips!

 

More from The Journey: Breakout Candidates

 

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