By Luke DeCock
In the space of a month, Frederik Andersen had claimed the Carolina net the same way someone else once scared him away from it. Back in 2012, Andersen re-entered the NHL draft rather than sign with the Hurricanes because he didn’t see an opportunity to get past Cam Ward.
Nine years and two teams later, Andersen is back with the club that originally drafted him, and the fit was worth the wait. Andersen was so good he disrupted coach Rod Brind’Amour’s typical 50-50 split, starting 11 of the Canes’ first 12 games, winning nine and becoming the third NHL goalie to win each of his first eight appearances with a team.
It’s a remarkable run, one of the best in history by a goaltender in a new uniform, and not exactly under perfect conditions given the off-season restructuring of the Hurricanes’ defense. Andersen allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his 11 starts and was third in the NHL in goals-against average, tied for first in wins and fifth in save percentage.
And Andersen has done it all with a quiet, stoic demeanor that matches his efficient play, a man of few words and fewer goals allowed. “You don’t get a ton of emotion,” said Canes defenseman Ian Cole. “He’s calm and collected and does his job, and he’s done a fantastic job. I don’t see much more than a smile. Maybe when we beat Toronto. He was pretty happy.”
After a difficult end to his time with the Maple Leafs, where he was blamed in part for the team’s post-season shortcomings, Andersen quickly fit in with his new/old team. “I’m just happy to be playing hockey down here,” Andersen said. “My main thing is just feeling good, feeling healthy and enjoying playing hockey. All those other things are distractions and don’t really matter too much. The love of the game has to come first.”
His path back to the Hurricanes was fraught with drama, to say the least. The Hurricanes liked what they saw from Andersen when they took him in the seventh round in 2010, but two summers later, Andersen changed agents and told the team he would go back into the draft in hopes of finding what he thought would be a better depth-chart scenario. His refusal to sign prompted an unusual press release from then-GM Jim Rutherford calling Andersen and his new agent out by name.
“Way back when I was drafted, we were trying to get something done, but looking at Cam Ward being there for a number of years and being No. 1, it was a pretty busy net there,” Andersen said. “Me and my agents talked about going back and seeing what the draft could do and maybe end up in a place where the chance of playing and having a good career would be a little more possible.
“That was kind of our little gamble, and the way we saw it, it was never about not playing in Carolina or anything like that. It was more the net was pretty busy. That was obviously a very different career path, looking back, but I thought it was the right move at the time, and obviously I’ve had a good career so far.”
Ironically, injuries to Ward and others contributed to the Hurricanes’ decade-long playoff drought and would have opened the door for Andersen to play extensively over the next two seasons, perhaps altering the course of history. But Andersen ended up with the Anaheim Ducks and then the Maple Leafs, where he was the goalie of the future and then the present, until he wasn’t. Someone had to pay the price for the Leafs’ shortcomings, and a change of scenery seemed like the best thing for both Andersen and the team.
The Hurricanes were looking to retool in net after three years of Petr Mrazek and trading away Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic. They turned to the one-two punch of Andersen and Antti Raanta, but what was expected to be a timeshare turned into a full tenancy. Raanta made only one start before sustaining a concussion in relief of Andersen in the Hurricanes’ first loss, so it’s been almost all Andersen so far. “He’s been awesome,” Cole said. “I can’t speak to the goaltending before I got here, but in my experience, having a goaltender that is a very calming presence, that not only makes the saves he’s supposed to make but the occasional unbelievable save, which he has done in spades, that is a recipe for success as far as goaltending goes.”
With several dramatic changes on the blueline – Dougie Hamilton, Jake Gardiner, Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury out; Cole, Ethan Bear, Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith in – Andersen’s calmness has radiated outward from the crease. There’s little wasted movement in his game, and the Carolina defense has fed off that. “Just the composure in the net,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s very calm in there. Even when we’re kind of running around a bit, he looks at ease and makes the saves look easy. That’s been a real calming effect for our group.”
After a decade apart, the fit was finally right for Andersen – and the Hurricanes.
This article originally appeared in The Hockey News' World Junior Championship preview.