Josh Anderson’s first season with the Habs was somewhat of an up and down one. He started strong but faded as the year went on. What version will he be in 2021-22; does he pick up where he left off or return to the top-six threat he was at the start of last season?
Considering that he was in the first year of a seven-year contract with a new team and coming off a season where he only scored once before missing several months with a shoulder injury, there was plenty of intrigue for Anderson heading into the season. He made an immediate impression, and boy, was it a good one.
He scored twice on opening night and through his first 13 contests, he had nine goals and two assists. Forget being a second liner, Anderson was producing like a top-line forward for the first month when the Habs were lighting up the scoresheet and looking like a real threat early on.
But as Montreal’s scoring came back down to earth, Anderson’s production simply cratered. He had just eight more goals over the final three-plus months of the season and given the role he held (he stayed in the top six pretty much exclusively with regular power play minutes), he was one of their biggest underachievers relative to his contract. Sure, the physicality was there most nights which is a dimension that few others provided but he wasn’t their highest-paid forward (tied with Jonathan Drouin while Brendan Gallagher was still on his cheap deal) to simply go around and hit people.
Anderson’s struggles continued in the playoffs where he was basically invisible through the first two rounds. Again, the physicality was there but that’s about it. However, he made a mark in the final two rounds with a two-goal game in each one, including the overtime winner in each of those contests. That helped at least salvage a respectable goal total for the postseason.
Season Stats: 52 GP, 17 goals, 7 assists, 24 points, -10 rating, 38 PIMS, 1 PPG, 5 GWG, 125 shots, 16:25 ATOI, 51.7 CF%
Playoff Stats: 22 GP, 5 goals, 1 assist, 6 points, -1 rating, 12 PIMS, 0 PPG, 2 GWG, 50 shots, 14:30 ATOI, 46.4 CF%
5 Year Averages
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
With the departures of Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault plus the emergence of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, the pecking order for Montreal’s forwards is in flux much more than normal. That’s especially the case for Anderson based on his finish to the season.
At times in the playoffs, Anderson lined up with Suzuki and Caufield and while he had some success, he didn’t really serve as the tough complement to that line nor does he have the skill to necessarily keep up with those two. He might fit in better with Jesperi Kotkaniemi who is the projected second centre on a line that might keep things a little simpler which is probably ideal for Anderson who could remain on his natural side in that scenario.
When it comes to the power play, I’m not sure there’s a great role for Anderson anymore and yes, I know it sounds a little counter-intuitive to take the second-leading goal-getter from last season off the power play. But hear me out.
Mike Hoffman will have a prominent role as will Caufield. Jonathan Drouin probably will as well assuming he’s in the lineup opening night. Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli will also be factors and Gallagher’s contract will have him on the power play as well even though it hasn’t been a big strength for him lately. Kotkaniemi is likely there on the second unit and all of a sudden, we’re at seven forwards not named Anderson. Does he get the Corey Perry role to stand in front of the net? That might be his only realistic chance and even then, Joel Armia and Mathieu Perreault (who has had success in that exact role with Winnipeg) are in the mix as well.
With what would appear to be a very limited window for power play time, Anderson is likely heading for a dip in playing time as he won’t be out there killing penalties either. He’s a top-six winger but with limited special teams opportunities, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s not in the top six when it comes to average ice time.
Let’s revisit the question from the beginning – does he pick up where he left off or return to the top-six threat he was at the start of last season? His history and the expected role suggest it’s likely to be the former, not the latter. With minimal power play time, that will take away some opportunities to pile on some extra points and given his offensive limitations, he’s not someone that is going to put up a lot of points anyway. As a result, the below projections are a tick lower than his extrapolated 82-game rate from last season.
As a result, my expectations in terms of output for Anderson for next season are fairly low and certainly don’t live up to his contract which was quite the overpayment from day one. He fills an important role that the Habs certainly needed but unfortunately, that role alone doesn’t lead to much in the way of production.
Having said that, his role makes him an intriguing option in deeper fantasy formats. He’s a safe bet for plenty of hits which gives him a boost in head-to-head leagues with that category while giving him a reasonably high floor for points-based pools with hits. He’d be worth a small boost in formats that have goals worth more than assists as it’s a safe bet he’ll have more goals than assists next season; that has been the case in four of the last five years. That makes him a mid-round flyer if you’re more optimistic than I am about his upside and a nice value pick with a bit of upside towards the end of the draft otherwise.