At one point, no OHL team wanted Josh Anderson to pull their sweater over his head. But that day of disappointment is long in the rear-view mirror as the London Knights' 6’2" power forward has driven himself to becoming not only an NHL draft pick, but also on the short list to don the red and white of Team Canada during the upcoming 2014 World Junior Championship.
Being short-listed for Canada’s national team wasn’t even a dream for Anderson in 2011, when his name was bypassed in the OHL Priority Selection.
“No, not at all. I was picturing myself playing Junior A the next year, so I had no idea that this was an opportunity for me at all,” he said. “It’s always the best time of year to go home at Christmas and watch the World Juniors with your family. It’s the best hockey of the year. This opportunity means a lot.”
The key to the rags to riches story? Not magic, not luck — just plain old hard work, dedication, and a belief in his own ability.
“It was just keeping my focus on hockey every day. Even when I wasn’t drafted, I still went to the gym, worked out, and got stronger,” he said. “Then the growing started and I was bigger than everyone else. Just getting to six feet at midget and after that I kept growing.
“And I wasn’t going to give up on my dream.”
Anderson admits that there may be a small chip on his shoulder to this day after being bypassed by every OHL franchise.
“Yeah, a little bit. I think so. It’s obviously a good story, not to be drafted in the OHL,” he said. “Obviously a lot of kids do [get drafted], but if not you have to keep working on your goal and try to get better as a player.”
Going back to that day, Anderson admitted he was a bit surprised that he wasn’t drafted into the junior ranks.
“Minor-midget year, you know, I was a small kid. Back then I was a goal scorer and would put up a lot of points. I was only 5’6", 140 pounds — really small,” he said. “I thought I was going to get the opportunity to be drafted.
“I was watching that day really closely on the computer and as each round went by without me seeing my name, it was obviously disappointing.”
No luck? Well, maybe — but if anything, Anderson made his own luck through hard work and perseverance.
“I remember in my midget year, when I went back to midget, I went to a tournament in Sudbury and the agency found me,” he said. “His name was Clay Leibel. He was with the Orr Group and now he’s [an amateur] scout [Ontario] for the L.A. Kings. That’s how I got started, just from the agency.
“Then a whole bunch of other teams came out: the Barrie Colts, the Soo [Greyhounds], and then London obviously saw one of my games and they wanted me ever since, so it was pretty easy to make that decision.”
It was a nice change from just a few months previous, when no team was calling his name.
“I think I had four or five teams ask me. I really brought it down to Kitchener [Rangers] and London — two great organizations — but I really wanted to learn from the Hunters,” he said. “They’ve developed more guys from the OHL that have played in the NHL, so that just made the decision easy for me.”
From there, Anderson changed his game. While the offensive talents were still there — evidenced by his 23-goal, 49-point performance last season, the Burlington, ON native focused on putting his newly large body to good work on the defensive side of the ice.
“It was unbelievable. I know that when I came to the OHL I was a goal scorer, but the Hunters changed me into a different player — playing that fourth-line role,” he said. “I wanted to be a physical player, bang bodies, and worry about defense more than offense when I came here. I think that the Hunters really taught me that part of the game. Columbus noticed that and they liked that big power-forward game.”
The change paid off. After going undrafted in the OHL, Anderson became the Columbus Blue Jackets' fourth-round selection, 95th overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft. And this summer, Anderson got to suit up with the Blue Jackets and participate in training camp.
“It’s an unbelievable experience. Every kid grows up wanting to be drafted by an NHL team,” he explained. “Just seeing all of these NHL guys, like [Nick] Foligno, and [Marian] Gaborik, and [Jack] Johnson — what it takes to be in the NHL and seeing what they do to get there, it’s just really special. Hopefully I’ll be up there one day.”
This season, he’s approaching a point-per-game pace, while performing as the power forward he’s projected to be at the next level. In 31 games, he’s scored 16 goals, compiled 30 points, and has 50 penalty minutes. All three totals are well on pace to shatter last year’s highs. He’s also already reached a +14 rating, well en route to surpassing his career high of +17 from his rookie campaign in 2011-12.
Despite all the success so far, being drafted by an NHL franchise, and likely making Team Canada’s World Junior roster, Anderson said he’s not taking anything for granted. He’s continuing to work diligently on all facets of his game and, despite how far he’s come, he knows he has farther to go.
“I think I can always work on something,” he said. “It’s about developing my game right now and me being a physical power forward; I know I need to play defense and put the puck in the net. [Columbus] just said keep working on what you’re doing and keep coming down the wing and shooting the puck as fast as you can.”
So looking back on that day, when team after team and round after round went without Anderson hearing his name called by an OHL franchise, does he have any regrets?
“It worked out even better,” he said. “I got the opportunity to play in London and play in the OHL. I got drafted by an NHL team, so it’s worked out well.”
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