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Emil Andrae’s path to the NHL has already been carved

The 2020 second-round pick can follow familiar footsteps, according to his GM.

Champions Hockey League via Gett

One of Johan Hult’s first memories of Philadelphia Flyers prospect Emil Andrae is one that he will never forget.

The HV71 general manager was able to watch the young draft-eligible defenseman make 10 appearances for his club last season, but it was a Sept. 5 pre-season game this year, where the 18-year-old made his deepest impression.

“I remember being home during the pre-season,” said Hult, “we were playing Linköping...I think it was just his second shift, and he lost the puck as the last defender and Linköping just went in and it was 1-0.

“Normally for young guys, you get a little bit uncomfortable, but after that Emil went on and got four points in the game. He can shake it off. He knows those times are going to come in other situations where he needs to handle it. Getting those four points is just proves that we don’t have to take anytime ice time off him when he makes a mistake, he can handle that.”

HV71 was able rally back from that 1-0 deficit to a 7-2 victory, to make it their fourth consecutive win during the 2020-21 buildup. The club would then go on and win their last two pre-season matches.

For a teenage defenseman to make a punishing mistake — with the spotlight essentially searing the back of his jersey and scouts keeping their eyes on the top-75 ranked prospect for the following month’s NHL Draft — could make that entire game a write-off. But for Andrae, it was able to push him more; to turn around and earn three assists and score the final goal of the comeback win demonstrates just how motivated this young defender is.

His third assist came from setting up a familiar face. Teammate Linus Sandin was signed by the Flyers as an undrafted European free agent in April of this year. The 24-year-old has spent his entire young career rising through the tiers of leagues in his native Sweden, but now he has a North American connection on his team. Both Andrae and Sandin could be part of the next wave of talent in Philadelphia, but the latter will experience the system first.

Hult has no doubt that the two Flyers will be in contact once Sandin makes his way overseas.

“We’ll have even more contact with Linus, once he has been there and knows a little bit more and can bring home knowledge,” said Hult. “He can tell [Andrae] how everything is around there, be even more in contact once he has been over there and knows a little bit more and can tell Emil how everything works over there.”

Sandin can tell Andrae about his Flyers experience and how the individual team is run, but when it comes to playing amongst the best in the world, the young defenseman must already know what it takes for a player his size.

Standing at 5-foot-9, the standard mold of a player that height on the blue line has already been casted by similar players that are in the NHL. Colorado Avalanche’s Samuel Girard and Vancouver Canucks rookie Quinn Hughes have established themselves as wonderful puck-movers and were able to break through the wall of being an undersized defenseman.

“We’re going to keep seeing them,” said Hult. “I think all the teams right now are looking for players that can move their feet and be skilled enough to solve difficult situations. Keeping the puck with the team, not throwing the puck away; you want a lot of puck possession. If you’re quick, strong in your body and have a good hockey sense, like Emil has, I think you’re wanted by all the teams.”

The Flyers’ second-round selection this year is certainly worthy of the glowing praise coming from his general manager. Andrae is able to earn his space on the ice and weave his way through the opposition. A characteristic similar to his NHL undersized counterparts, but there is something significantly different about the Swedish teenager.

“He’s not a tall guy but he’s very big. He’s pretty fearless going into any situation,” said the HV71 general manager. “He has a lot of guts. He’s strong for being young and also being not that tall. I think because he’s young, he’s going to be even stronger.

“We have to remember this is basically his first season playing senior hockey. He was up and played a couple of games last year, but this is actually his first. You also learn how to use your strength in different situations, and that’s what Emil’s processing right now. I like the way that he’s not a big guy, but he plays big with his body.”

The physicality that Andrae plays with, along with his offensive skill and puckhandling, can earn him the comparable of a meteorite, crashing towards Earth, not stopping until the end destination has been met. While the likes of Hughes and Girard certainly possess top-tier offense and vision, the 18-year-old Flyers prospect isn’t afraid of using his body.

Just like any young player getting ready for an upcoming campaign, Andrae was able to focus on getting stronger and growing into his senior-level frame. This being his first real season at the top level in Sweden — as Hult would like to remind you — the teenager has limited experience playing amongst men.

After appearing in less than a dozen games at the end of last season at the senior level, the 18-year-old knew that he would be handed more responsibility this season. The traditional path of a small debut at the top, followed by a more regular season, was laid out in front of Andrae. But no matter what was going to happen with more appearances, the young defender was ready.

“I think he had a very important summer. Coming into the season, he felt confident,” said Hult, “that he had a good offseason to build up his body. He was strong. He worked a lot at being quicker on the ice.

“When you’re a small player in the SHL you have a little bit more room, but especially when you go to the NHL, you need to be really quick when you’re smaller. You need to improve your speed and I think that’s what helped him this summer. Especially now when he gets on the ice, it’s all about getting a little bit stronger in his legs and then he can be quicker.”

Even if he went pointless during that short stint with the top HV71 team, there were signs of skill, beaming from the defenseman, that continued to show through this season.

“One thing I would say,” said Hult, “is how he sees the ice well and how he’s skilled enough with the puck to use that vision. And also what I really like about him is that he’s prepared to work hard to reach his goals.

“It’s easy to say that ‘you want to go there, you want to do that’ but he’s really ambitious about his goals and where he wants to go and how he approaches this process to reaching those goals. ‘I need to be better at this,’ and then he goes and does those certain things. Even if it’s a small goal or big goal.”

Those variably-sized goals has led Andrae to making big strides in his game. Although a typical cliché, the undersized blueliner has been able to improve over his summer and grow more confident in his abilities.

“Big difference. Huge difference. Both his game with the puck, but also without the puck,” Hult said, comparing Andrae’s two seasons. “He plays with a great confidence, and I think he had a really good preseason here and he took that into the season. He’s made huge progress.”

That amount of confidence is something that most hockey fans crave in a player. We’re so used to the standard hockey prospect that will name his favorite color as beige and just wants to be on the ice, telling reporters that he goes into the boards well.

Andrae can bring something else to whatever team he is on, even if he is a rookie.

“He loves to be a little bit extra on the ice,” Hult described, “even if it’s a skill competition, he likes to shoot a little bit extra. He always wants to do a little bit extra all the time, to get better. He has a little spark in his eye, a little smile and you can see how he loves to be around and in the team, even in competition.”

But the 18-year-old isn’t all flash either. When more is demanded from him, to get down into the details of the game and play the basics, he’s able to do so.

That all-around talent extends beyond the ice and into the dynamic of Hult’s team. Andrae is certainly not a timid teenager, but he knows when to turn it off and absorb any knowledge from other, more senior, professionals.

“When you’re a young guy and you come up to your first senior team, you’re not the guy who talks the most, but you shouldn’t be that either,” Hult said. “You listen a lot and that describes Emil. He wants to learn all the time.

“Leadership from other players, how you workout in the gym, is all serious for him. How you learn about different stuff...While he’s on the ice or just having a coffee and in conversation, he loves to talk and listen to the other guys.”

Andrae is one of five teenagers currently on HV71’s roster. Despite that injection of youth, the five-time SHL champion has 15 players that have seen their 25th birthday. The mix of experience provides a unique opportunity for the youngsters; to learn their craft from players that have been playing at the senior level of Sweden for a long time.

Even with the difference of experience, the young Flyer is still able to speak up and get more out of his older teammates.

“The best leadership is how you make your teammates better all the time,” said the HV71 GM, “you push them, on the ice or off the ice. Even if Emil is only new to the team, he’s still brought things for us. That’s good leadership for us.”

Andrae was sitting down with his family for dinner as the NHL Draft was going on, so Hult waited until later that night to call him to congratulate him. No matter what franchise drafted his young defenseman, he would have been proud, but the Flyers choosing Andrae at 54th overall gave the general manager confidence that his player would be taken care of and developed.

“I think it’s the best for Emil,” said Hult. “A good team, a good organization and of course, I think it’s good the other way around. I think it’s a good pick from Philadelphia. I think Emil has all the potential to become a really good NHL defenseman.”

There has been no better time for Andrae to come through as a prospect. A new wave of young defensemen under six feet tall has already hit the NHL and some teams are just trying to catch up to the trend.

Hult is more than aware of the defenseman’s potential and he is just waiting for him to take the next step in production on his HV71 team. Sitting with two assists through 13 games this season isn’t out of the ordinary for a young player in the SHL, but Andrae has shown the ability to be a top offensive talent on the blue line.

With no rookie tournament coming, he will be an HV71 player for the remainder of the season and we will no doubt see more highlights of end-to-end rushes and stickhandling that makes his opponents look ridiculous, on the Swedish ice.

With more time to develop and improve his overall game, who knows what is next for Andrae. The path is certainly clear and the prototype has already been set. It’s just up to him if he wants to stick with that offensively-minded small defenseman mold, or to break it and become something different for the modern game.