They didn’t even have to hear his name.
When the Colorado Avalanche brass took to the podium in Buffalo on Saturday to announce the 71st selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, all Josh Anderson’s family had to hear was “From the Prince…” and they were on their feet cheering.
The Avalanche picked the Duncan-raised Anderson in the third round of the draft, moving the six-foot-three, 220-pound Prince George Cougars blueliner that much closer to living his dream of skating in the NHL.
“It was a big honour to be selected by Colorado,” Anderson said. “I didn’t really think much [at the time]. Everyone was happy. It was just like living a dream.”
Anderson had one goal, five assists and 86 penalty minutes in his second full season with the Western Hockey League’s Cougars, a campaign that was limited to 39 games because of eye and back injuries.
Those setbacks, however, didn’t set off alarm bells for the Avs. Anderson had been in touch with the Colorado team, and wasn’t surprised when they ended up calling his name.
“I talked to them throughout the year, and so did my agent,” he said. “I had a good feeling they would be interested.”
Ranked 60th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and 61st overall by TSN’s hockey pundits, Anderson had a good feeling that he would be picked, although those things are never guaranteed.
“I thought I had a good shot,” he said. “If I didn’t get hurt, I would have had a better season and a better pick overall.”
Another 140 players were selected after Anderson. Anderson is the first Duncan product to be drafted since the Dallas Stars picked defenceman Alex Theriau in the fourth round in 2010.
Anderson’s back injury may have hurt his draft stock, despite assurances to teams from spine specialists that there would be no longterm effects.
It was no deterrent for the Avs, who were pleased to land a big shutdown defenceman with the 10th pick of the third round.
“They said his skills are underrated,” Anderson’s dad, Chris, said. “He skates really well for a big guy. They were describing him as an old throwback defenceman.”
That’s a label Josh is proud of.
“I think of myself as a defensive defenceman,” he said. “I move the puck well, I think defence first. That’s probably why my numbers are so low.”
Over two full seasons in the WHL, Anderson has compiled just 10 points, due in large part to the physical role he was assigned in Prince George. Some Colorado fans aired their skepticism online after Anderson was drafted, but Chris believes his son will prove them wrong.
“Josh plays hockey in obscurity in Prince George,” he pointed out. “You and me, as armchair quarterbacks, we might only see him play once a season when he comes to town, and we base our opinion on that one game.”
It will be a quick turnaround for Anderson, who will head to Denver for the Avs’ development camp that begins on July 3. There might be other camps with the NHL team this summer and fall, but Anderson anticipates being back in Prince George for the 2016-17 season. At this point, he has just one goal in mind.
“A whole season,” he said. “That’s all I have set right now.”
Anderson, who turns 18 at the end of August, was born in Nanaimo, and lived there the first three years of his life. Since then, he has called the Cowichan Valley home, living first in Lake Cowichan, then moving to Duncan before his first season of atom hockey.
He played in the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association through the bantam ranks, skating in provincial championships in peewee and bantam, then spent one year with the Victoria-based major midget South Island Royals.
Playing in the NHL has been Anderson’s dream “since the day I started to watch hockey and play hockey,” but it didn’t really seem possible until a few months ago.
“About a quarter of the way through the season, when all the scouts started talking to me, that’s when it started to kick in,” he said. “Even last year, I didn’t think about it too much. I couldn’t get drafted either way.”
Several family members, including his parents and grandmother, accompanied Anderson to Buffalo for the draft. It was a whirlwind experience, and it’s still setting in for them.
“It’s been really surreal, watching your child’s dream come true, to be drafted and having the potential to play in the NHL,” mom Kristine said. “It’s every kid’s dream, and just that small percentage get to achieve it. To be on that side of it is incredible.”
Anderson’s parents couldn’t be more proud.
“We knew Josh was under the radar here in the Cowichan Valley, but he persevered and worked hard,” Chris said. “It hasn’t come easy for him. He’s deserving. He worked hard to get where he is. It’s a nice reward to be able to achieve it.”
Realistically, Anderson is still a few years away from a shot at a full-time job with the Avalanche, but he knows what he has to do to get there.
“Stay positive and work hard every day,” he said. “I can’t get down on myself. Everybody’s got adversity to get through.”