If you’re an up incoming defensive prospect, there are few players better to learn from — let alone be paired with in your first NHL game — than 41-year-old Stanley Cup Champion Zdeno Chara.
This has been the case for Axel Andersson, the Boston Bruins’ second-round selection in 2018, who has spent the majority of training camp as Chara’s defensive partner; something that the 18-year-old Jarna, Sweden native and Bruins’ coaching staff have valued immensely.
“He’s such a role model. He’s great on and off the ice and it made me comfortable,” Andersson said about Chara following his first NHL game last Sunday. “He gave me advice after every shift.”
“When you have a guy like that too look up to, it’s a good learning process for a young player. To see how he goes about his business every day, to me, is one of the main things young guys should take away from training camp; how our guys prepare and what they do to get themselves ready. It’s not just put on your skates and go out and play,” Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco said. “I would suspect that Andersson is learning a lot from Zee as far as that goes, not just on the ice. I’m sure he is talking to him on the ice about little things here and there but to me, it’s more about the process of becoming a pro.”
Andersson’s poise and potential could lead him to a spot on Boston’s blue line down the road. He could be an extremely talented player in the National Hockey League.
Like any young player, Andersson will have his share of rookie moments be it an errant pass or holding onto the puck for extended lengths of time. Such was the case during Thursday’s practice where Andersson tried to skate the puck out of the defensive zone along the boards and ended up taking a monster hit from Noel Acciari.
Following the play, Chara pulled the young defenseman aside and appeared to be giving him several pointers on how to avoid future mistakes.
“He tells me when I’m good and when I have to get better,” Andersson said about Chara’s message. “He told me when I first came to camp that I’m just a regular guy and talked to me as an equal.
“I think development is on the ice and off the ice for our young guys. And I think when you have a guy like Z that does it the right way every time, you know, every day he comes in and prepares the right way before practice, when he works out and when we get on the ice too,” Sacco added about Chara’s leadership.
The duo manned Boston’s first defensive line during the Bruins’ first preseason game against Washington at TD Garden on Sept. 16 and worked in similar unison to what we have grown accustomed to seeing from Chara and Charlie McAvoy.
At 6-foot-1, 179-pounds, Andersson plays a style similar to McAvoy and often works well with bigger defenseman that can clean things up in the defensive zone. Andersson finished his first preseason game with a plus-1 rating and an assist on Boston’s lone goal in regulation en route to its 2-1 shootout victory.
Although we might not see him in a Bruins’ uniform this season, his development playing alongside Chara during training camp will greatly benefit him in the coming years.