Why Blackhawks’ Joey Anderson is worth re-signing

Chicago Blackhawks forward Joey Anderson has a pretty good idea about what most people think of his playing style.

“My style of play isn’t necessarily exciting,” Anderson said.

Anderson isn’t fast. He isn’t going to skate through opponents. He isn’t going to deceive a goalie with his shot. He isn’t going to sell jerseys. He’s basically on the opposite end of the hockey spectrum of someone like Connor Bedard.

But Anderson is effective.

Take for example these analytics from Stathletes. He leads all Blackhawks forwards and is 11th in the league in deflections causing turnovers per 60 minutes. Also, since making his season debut in November, 51.6 percent of his puck possession per game (31 seconds) has occurred in the offensive zone. That’s the highest rate on the Blackhawks.

According to Evolving Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) metric, only Alex Vlasic, Jason Dickinson and Nick Foligno have had more of an all-around impact on the Blackhawks than Anderson this season.

So, while he might not be the prettiest skater or the most exciting player, Anderson does get the job done.

Just ask Foligno.

“I didn’t know much about him, to be honest with you,” Foligno said on Sunday. “I’ve heard his name and we played against each other a little bit, but I’m so impressed with how consistent he’s been, too, and just the way he’s played and knows who he is. I think that sometimes comes with age, too. You can see he’s really confident in who he is as a player. He’s kind of found that role and done that, never tried to change. He’s made some great plays, too, offensively, but he’s always stayed within the structure of a good defensive forward and really reliable in all the aspects that they put him in. He’s a lot of fun to play with.”

And that’s been the case for most of Anderson’s career. His analytics have been pretty positive since he broke into the NHL with the New Jersey Devils in 2018-19. What he’s lacked is a consistent NHL opportunity, though. The reason for that largely goes back to his playing style. If teams have the option between Anderson and someone who plays more aesthetically and/or has a potential higher ceiling, the other player often wins out. Asked about Anderson, a number of NHL scouts described him as a poor skater who lacks foot speed.

The Blackhawks didn’t use those exact words, but their decision to put Anderson through waivers and send him to the Rockford IceHogs out of training camp was their own way of saying it. The Blackhawks made room for some incoming veterans and younger players and decided to move Anderson out.

Anderson understood the situation. He’s also gotten better about handling those decisions and worrying less about the big picture. With age — he’ll turn 26 in June — and now having a family, he’s learned to stay in the moment and focus on the present.

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Joey Anderson and Colin Blackwell celebrate with the bench after a goal by Anderson. (Jamie Sabau / USA Today)

“You know what, there were so many bodies here,” Anderson said of the Blackhawks assigning him to Rockford. “It’s one of those things like, you’re hoping you’re still up, but you can’t control that. You just go down, you have a good attitude when you go to Rockford and that’s exactly what I did. I had a great time with that group, and we had a lot of fun and the hockey is great. Like I said, you can’t control where you’re at, so you just show up every day, you try and help the guys there get better, and in turn, you get better and find success because I’m helping other guys have success and vice versa. So I think that’s been a big thing for me, I’m just trying to have that positive attitude no matter where I go.”

Anderson was arguably the IceHogs’ best forward early in the season, but it wasn’t until the Blackhawks suffered some injuries that he got another chance in the NHL. He was called up on Nov. 23. And since then, aside from his own injury, Anderson has remained in the Blackhawks’ lineup and bumped others out.

Most of Anderson’s ice time this season has been spent with Dickinson. Like Anderson, Dickinson’s game may not be super flashy, but he plays hard, plays direct, gets on the forecheck and finds ways to contribute in all zones. In their 205:37 of five-on-five ice time together this season, they have a 56.61 Corsi percentage, 50.50 expected goals percentage and 70.59 actual goals percentage, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Blackhawks have outscored opponents 12-5 with them on the ice.

Lately, Colin Blackwell has joined Anderson and Dickinson, and that line has been dynamic. In 58:54 of five-on-five ice time, it has a 58.4 Corsi percentage, 57.3 expected goals percentage and a 100 percent actual goals percentage (2-0). It’s been going up against tough competition, too. For example, the Blackwell-Anderson-Dickinson line matched up against Mathew Barzal’s line throughout Friday’s game against the New York Islanders and won every major statistic category, including 2-0 in goals.

One of those two goals was Anderson’s first of the season. Dickinson was as happy as anyone for Anderson.

“It’s amazing,” Dickinson said. “I’m glad because he’s played so well. He deserves it. He works so hard on both sides of the puck. It’s not always rewarding. It’s ugly hockey sometimes that people don’t appreciate, but it’s little things that go a long way to our game as a line, as a team, that is appreciated by myself and others, that doesn’t necessarily get talked about.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if, just like Dickinson, Anderson was in the Blackhawks’ future plans beyond this season and received a contract extension. Anderson may not get the money Dickinson did on his recent deal, but Anderson has proven he can be a reliable and consistently contribute in his role. There’s probably a place for him because of that.

Regardless, Anderson knows he’ll be fine wherever he is.

“When I was in New Jersey, my first two years pro, I used to get really caught up in having to go down and frustrated and like, this sucks,” Anderson said. “That’s when it kind of started to dawn on him, like you can’t control that. Just enjoy your day-to-day with your teammates, whoever you’re with, and just life is so much better when you do that. And then you end up playing so much better. I find it so much easier to play when you’re in a good headspace.

“And you don’t have to be happy with where you’re at. But you need to try to find a way to be happy with yourself and away from hockey. My wife and my daughter are with me and have a nice place to live, so I get away from the game and I’m refreshed and I’m excited to go back to the rink. It’s been a good growth in my personal life. It’s led to an even more positivity when I go to the rink.”

(Photo: Jamie Sabau / USA Today)

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