Part 1 of a two-part story on Los Angeles Kings promising young defenseman prospect Mikey Anderson. Look for Part 2 on February 5, 2020.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — He may not be the flashiest player in the world. Nevertheless, Mikey Anderson, a fresh-faced, young defenseman prospect, made a strong impression in his first training camp with the Los Angeles Kings last Fall, and he has continued to impress with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League.
The 20-year-old, 5-11, 200-pound native of Roseville, Minnesota has scored two goals and has contributed ten assists for 12 points, with a -14 plus/minus rating and 14 penalty minutes in 45 games this season.
Anderson played two seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League, followed by two seasons at the University of Minnesota Duluth before he was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Anderson got a long, hard look during the Kings 2019 training camp and pre-season games—he was impressive enough to stick around the Kings training camp considerably longer than expected.
“It was my first time in an NHL camp, so I went in open-minded, being around the NHL veterans, trying to pick up the little things they do on a daily basis, being professionals,” he said. “I was trying to get a feel for what it’s like up there and I was trying to enjoy it and just trying to control what I could control. It was a really good first experience.”
Although his -14 plus/minus rating is not what anyone wants to see, especially for a defenseman, that number is far more reflective of the Reign’s struggles—they’ve lagged behind the pack all season, and are currently fourth in the AHL’s Pacific Division.
Despite the team’s struggles, Anderson has maintained a positive outlook.
“I feel like it’s been going good, so far,” said Anderson. “We‘ve had some ups and downs, as a group. But that’s going to happen with a younger group.”
Reign head coach Mike Stothers praised Anderson’s play to this point in the season, saying that, “He’s been really good.” But he also noted that Anderson is in his first year in the professional ranks, so there are still hills to climb, so to speak.
“There’s been a leveling off of Mikey’s play, and I think it’s just a matter of him playing a lot,” said Stothers. “The schedule is a lot different from college, and [what we’re seeing] is not all that uncommon for all these guys coming out of college. There’s a point where they seem to hit the wall.”
“Every season, you can see where your team hits the doldrums,” added Stothers. “Every team talks about that. It usually comes in late January or early February. You push through it, and it ramps up again on the other side another notch or two. But he’s clearly shown that he’s got a high hockey IQ. He’s very coachable. He’s a guy who you only have to explain something to him once and he’s got it. Very seldom do you worry that this high that he’s on is going to be too long, or that any low that he might get into will go on for an extended period of time.”
Anderson indicated that the heavier schedule at the professional level has required quite the adjustment.
“The main difference is the schedule,” he noted. “There’s a lot more travel here. In college, you’re home for two games on the weekend. Then, you’re home all week. Maybe you’re flying on a Wednesday for games that weekend. But here, we’re flying [or riding a bus] on Tuesday, play on Wednesday, head home for two games over the weekend—it’s a much more hectic schedule. You notice it a little, physically, and mentally, for sure. That’s been a big adjustment.”
Moving from college hockey to the professional ranks also requires a lifestyle adjustment.
“It’s a little different,” he said. “I talked to my Dad about it right away. The first thing you notice is the lifestyle. You’re on your own and you have a lot more free time. You have to learn how to manage your time to make sure that you’re performing to the best of your ability.”
Something this reporter noticed right away while interviewing Anderson was that he is a well-grounded, very down-to-Earth, personable young man. He seems to be making the necessary adjustments, perhaps better than a lot of first-year pros his age, including things he needs to do to make sure his body is ready to go.
“I feel like I’ve adjusted pretty well,” he said. “I’ve talked with [Kings and Reign strength and conditioning coaches, Matt Price and Paul Valukas, respectively] about what I can do to make sure that I’m prepared, physically.”
“A lot of it is what you’re eating, how many hours of sleep you get, and how you take care of your body away from the rink,” he added. “Those are big things that I’m always trying to think about so that when I show up at the rink, I’m ready to go.”
That leads to another adjustment for a young player: living on his own, far from home, often for the first time in his life. But Anderson, who lives with Kings rookie center Blake Lizotte, is already one big step ahead—he has some experience in the kitchen.
“Starting with my Mom, she’s big [in the kitchen],” he noted. “I was always in the kitchen, watching her, getting a feel for cooking. Then, in college, I lived with my brother during my freshman year. He wasn’t as much of a cook as I was, so I was making dinner every night. Even last year, I was making breakfast and dinner [for himself].”
“That really prepared me,” he added. “Now, when I go to the store, I know what foods that I should be getting and what I shouldn’t be getting. It’s really helping my body stay fresh.”
If you’re getting the impression that Anderson is already ahead of the game, in terms of maturity and his mental game, you’d be correct.
“He’s pretty grounded and he’s pretty good at evaluating his own performance,” Stothers observed. “He knows when he can bring a little bit more and he knows when things are going good, but how do I keep it that way?”
“There’s not a whole lot that you have to spend a lot of time with Mikey on,” Stothers added. “Yet, if he wants to engage in the hockey conversations, he’s a really interesting guy. He’s fun to talk to.”
Anderson being ahead of the game for a first-year pro, in terms of maturity and his mental game, isn’t difficult to see on the ice.
“My hockey IQ and compete level are probably my strengths,” he said. “Those are things that I’ve always had. Growing up, I wasn’t always the fastest player. I had to be able to read where I should be so I could be in the right spots, and I had to know how and where to move the puck. Those things have stayed with me throughout my hockey career.”
Given his maturity, it also comes as little surprise that Anderson is already displaying leadership qualities, even though he is a 20-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears, first-year pro.
“His leadership qualities have been with us all season long,” Stothers noted, “You can see where he’s a guy who’s had some success and was a big part of that. He’s a guy who’s already, in his first year, well-respected in the room.”
But all the talk about maturity, leadership and off-ice preparation is meaningless if a player doesn’t have the talent to make good use of all that.
“I’m a two-way defenseman,” said Anderson. “But everything starts on the back end for me. I’m going to take care of the defensive zone first. Offense comes second. When points come, it’s awesome. But I’m going to do everything I can to make us hard to play against.”
“He’s a steady guy who you might not notice because there’s not a whole lot of flash and dash,” Stothers observed. “But he would probably be similar to a Matt Roy, in that when you look at him, you think, ‘He’s got that many points? I didn’t think he had that many.’”
“You might even think, ‘Did he even play tonight?’ But that’s when you know he’s on his game,” Stothers added. “Very seldom do they do anything flashy that you notice, or anything that jumps out at you where you think that something he did was a poor decision or a poor play, nor does he do anything to make you think, ‘he was a little off tonight.’”
“Players like that are a coaches’ dream because they’re low maintenance. You don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about what they’re going to do because they do the preparation. They do the work and they’re pretty efficient at what they do. The thing you have to remind yourself is, as a coach, is that when you have a guy like Mikey is to tell him that he’s doing a good job every so often. You tend to forget that because you almost take it for granted.”
Anderson is already showing that he is a versatile and flexible player, one who can complement just about anyone he might be paired with on the blue line.
“He’s a good fit with anybody,” said Stothers. “A lot of guys play so much better with certain guys. They have a connection. But Mikey’s a guy we could pair with anybody or anybody with him, and we know that not much is going to change. Again, it’s ‘Here I am. I’ll get the job done.’ Then, at the end of the night, you look at the score sheet and see that he had three shots and an assist, and you might not even have realized it.”
There is already a lot to like about Mikey Anderson, even though he is only a little more than halfway through his first season in professional hockey. That said, he still has a lot to learn and improve upon. Part 2 of this story will look at the areas Anderson is already working on to address weaknesses in his game, improve his overall play and what he needs to do off the ice to facilitate it all.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Mikey Anderson, shown here during a recent practice with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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