TORONTO — There was once a time when Frederik Andersen was a little-known goaltender from Denmark who twice passed through the NHL draft unclaimed.
Back then he was dying for a scout to come watch him play.
Now? Well, it’s no longer an issue for a 26-year-old who could very well be the best available at his position this summer — with even Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello discreetly stationed at his corner of the rink during the Anaheim Ducks morning skate at Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
While it is not a foregone conclusion that Andersen will be moved this off-season, there’s a strong chance of it happening. He’s due for a sizeable raise as a restricted free agent, 22-year-old John Gibson is signed for three more seasons at a team-friendly $2.3-million per and the Ducks would only be able to protect one of them in an expansion draft.
Hence the number of eyeballs currently charting his progress closely — the Flames, Leafs and Hurricanes are all believed to have some level of interest — as Anaheim’s season heads towards the home stretch.
Andersen has had to manage plenty of uncertainty throughout the year, including an ugly split between agents Claude Lemieux and Ritch Winter, but now seems at ease with his situation.
“You want to push that away,” Andersen told Sportsnet. “At the end of the day it’s going to take care of itself, whatever may happen. It’s out of my control right now except the way I play and I think that’s the only thing I worry about.
“No matter what, I want to win a Cup here so that’s the main goal.”
The Dane likened the dispute between Lemieux and Winter to having your parents get divorced. Those men are locked in an ongoing legal battle, and after some discussions with other agents Andersen eventually chose to retain Lemieux as the person designated to negotiate his next contract.
However, the entire episode wound up being a distraction in the early stages of an important season and Andersen believes it contributed to his slow start.
That opened the door slightly for Gibson and the two have basically been splitting time since then. With less than three weeks to go before the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Ducks have yet to decide on a starter — although coach Bruce Boudreau has full confidence that Andersen has the ability to carry the mail if called upon.
“If look at his numbers, he started off the season 0-6-1 and I think he’s (20-9-6) right now,” said Boudreau. “He’s been spectacular. He was the No. 1 last year. On most teams he would be a solid No. 1.”
That is reflected in the .924 save percentage he carried into Thursday’s game against the Leafs and the sterling 75-26-11 record he’s compiled as a NHLer so far.
Should Andersen take the Ducks on a long playoff run this spring there’s a chance GM Bob Murray might choose to deal away Gibson instead. But if you’re handicapping the situation, it’s more likely the older player who is about start earning more money gets shipped out.
There will be plenty of interest.
One thing Calgary, Toronto and Carolina share is a need for a No. 1.
The Flames have three pending unrestricted free agents at the position and they all underperformed this season. The Leafs have Jonathan Bernier under contract for one more year, but he’s struggled for most of the last 14 months. The Hurricanes are in the midst of a youth movement and have longtime starter Cam Ward due to become a free agent.
That organization actually drafted Andersen in the seventh round in 2010 after seeing him deliver a strong performance at the IIHF World Hockey Championship a few months earlier. But the player chose not to sign a contract with the Hurricanes because he felt they already had a crowded crease and re-entered the 2012 draft, getting selected 87th overall by Anaheim.
“It’s one of those calculated risks, where you’re looking at other teams’ depth charts and we thought that there might be a better chance of being on a team long-term,” said Andersen. “It seemed like the only decision once I weighed the pros and cons.”
His story is one of perseverance and overcoming some long odds.
He remembers getting “pretty beat up” while representing Denmark at the 2008 world junior tournament — losing one game 10-1 to Sweden. Then he was eligible for the NHL draft on two occasions when no team called out his name.
But he eventually made his way to North America, via Sweden, and could be in pretty hot demand a few months from now.
“You’ve just got to keep working to get noticed, and if you’re good enough to play in the NHL you will,” said Andersen, referring to his path. “That’s kind of my mentality. There’s a lot of scouts out there; they’ll find you if you’re good enough, right?”
They’ve got their eyes trained on him now.