LOS ANGELES — After making a very solid impression in a late-season, six-game stint with the Los Angeles Kings last year, rookie defenseman Mikey Anderson finds himself on the cusp of making the Kings 2020-21 opening night roster.
“In my mind, Mikey has worked his way into our lineup, and again, at camp, it looks like he’s going to stay there,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “The amount of poise and the types of plays that he makes, not only offensively, but also defensively, is pretty rewarding.”
“As he moves forward, we expect him to be part of our team,” added McLellan. “We haven’t anointed any positions yet, but he certainly has a foot in the door, and he’s played well over the first four days [of training camp]. We think that he’ll have a good, long career with us.”
McLellan elaborated on what has impressed him so much about Anderson.
“As a young player, he was positionally sound,” he said. “He anticipated plays well in games. He wasn’t intimidated by playing in certain situations or buildings. His teammates appreciated him, as a player. They really found a way to make it work with him, and we’ve seen that carry over into training camp.”
That is very high praise from a National Hockey League head coach for a 21-year-old, still-wet-behind-the-ears defenseman who is just a little over one year removed from college hockey. But even with the rather glowing praise, Anderson still needs to work on his game and he pointed to adjusting better to the speed and quickness of the NHL, and he wasn’t referring specifically to skating.
“You can get better in every situation,” he said. “But the biggest thing for me that I noticed was that the half-second you get in the [American Hockey League] to make a play—you come to the NHL and that half-second is gone. You’ve got to make the play a little quicker. For me, I’d like to be able to improve that and be able to make more clean plays consistently. Be a strong defender, and take everything from there.”
Anderson indicated that he arrived at training camp feeling better about his game than he did when he was recalled by the Kings late last season.
“Coming into camp this year, having been around the guys for those six games [over] a couple of weeks last year made coming back this year a lot more comfortable,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to make the transition and get camp rolling.”
“[Playing in six games for the Kings last season] was huge for me,” he added. “[Defenseman Matt Roy] helped me a lot last year to come in and feel comfortable, right from the start.”
“I thought Matty and I did a good job of defending together. He’s a really good player, very steady and reliable. I thought the two of us together, we did a good job defending, playing against some of the top players around the league. That was a big key for me.”
Having added physical strength over the prolonged off-season will also help Anderson to improve.
“That long off-season is probably something we’re never going to see again,” he noted. “Kind of being underdeveloped the last couple of years, I took a big lead on trying to get into the weight room, put on some extra weight, put on some muscle, get a little faster, get stronger.”
“Having the success we had at the end of last year, [I came] in with the mindset that I want that spot out of camp again, so I was trying to push hard in the weight room to put on the extra weight, feel good on the ice and come in, ready to go,” he added.
Perhaps just as important as Anderson’s hockey skills are his off-the-charts maturity level and leadership potential, which are among the things noticed by this reporter last season.
“He’s mature beyond his years,” said McLellan. “That’s him. You can tell that he was a college player. He’s been in and around men for a little while. He carries himself very professionally around the rink, on the ice and off.”
“He fits our group well,” added McLellan. “As we move forward, who knows where that might take him, as far as the leadership group with the team. Right now, he’s just trying to break into the league as a full-time player. We’re not going to place any added pressure on him for any of those other intangibles.”
Given his advanced maturity and leadership skills for a 21-year-old player, Anderson offered a very reserved response to such praise—it was a response that one would expect from him.
“It’s very humbling to hear those things,” he said. “[I’m] just trying to come to the rink, be myself, especially being in a new setting, having not been around a lot of the guys from the Kings last year, except for those last two weeks.”
“[I’m] just trying not to change anything from what I normally am,” he added. “I’m not a big talker in the room. I’m more in one-on-one conversations. I’m not the center [of attention in] the locker room. I’m just trying to be who I am, take it from there, and try to learn from all the older guys. Some of these guys have been here. They’ve won Stanley Cups before. I just want to take it all in and see what they do on a daily basis.”
LEAD PHOTO: Defenseman Mikey Anderson, shown here during the annual rookie tournament for young prospects, September 8, 2019 at Great Park ICE & FivePoint Arena, Irvine, California. Photo by Gann Matsuda/Frozen Royalty.
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