Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
#19: Raivis Ansons, Winger
2020 Ranking: NR
Age: 19 (January 29, 2002)
Height/Weight: 6’ 1”, 192 pounds
Acquired Via: 2020 NHL Draft (Fifth Round — #149 overall)
Like so many, 2020-21 was mostly a lost season of hockey for young forward Raivis Ansons. He played the first portion of the year in his native Latvia, recording nine points in 10 games and standing out as a good player in a not-so-elite level.
I'm not sure the Latvian Hockey Higher League offers the most competitive environment in the world, but Penguins forward prospect Raivis Ansons (fifth-rounder in 2020) scored a pretty slick goal yesterday: pic.twitter.com/hNfR4idVR4— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) January 11, 2021
Ansons returned to the Quebec Major Junior league after the calendar turned to 2021 and as that league attempted to restart, but found himself suspended before too long for two games due to a high-sticking penalty.
That sort of grit and sandpaper is a staple in Ansons’ game.
Or, as Kyle Watson from Dobber Hockey succinctly put it: “Lacks any sort of flair but uses his big frame effectively.”
Our pal Jesse Marshall from The Athletic has done a couple of dives into Ansons’ game and had this to offer:
Lots of clips like this with him forcing turnovers and just being a nuisance. But you can also get the sense here that it’s not always super clean in the offensive zone. I’m not super concerned about it because his shot is underrated and he distributes the puck well. pic.twitter.com/stzWc0Lzo5— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) October 7, 2020
Ansons is not going to be a forward who projects to play 18-20 minutes in the NHL in a top-end player. But he does have good size, some physicality and it appears a very good compete level. If all of that comes together, that could make him the classic valuable lower line winger that gets to work on the forecheck and helps round out a team by being a reliable player all around the ice and on the penalty kill.
In many ways, a good path ahead for Ansons would be to follow in the footsteps of his countryman, Teddy Blueger. Blueger was a higher draft pick (2nd round to Ansons 5th round) but Blueger improved his skating markedly over the years he was a draft pick and gradually developed into a solid NHL player who features in a bottom-six role as one of the better defensive forwards in the league. With Ansons having a likely third or fourth line NHL ceiling, if he can progress in a similar mold like Blueger did, it would be a wonderful development for the Pens.
The plan ahead for Ansons is for him to play in 2021-22 with his QMJHL team of Baie-Comeau. Barring any unexpected changes of rules/eligibility, that will be his final season of junior hockey eligibility. If still unsigned, the Pens lose their rights to Ansons on June 1, 2022, so it is possible — perhaps likely — that Pittsburgh will be signing him to a contract in the next 10 months so that he can get his professional career started when his next season ends.
Given that GM Ron Hextall and director of player personnel Chris Pryor have no connections or ties to Ansons, they could also be treating 2021-22 as a tryout for the youngster. For his future prospects this season could be very critical to earn a spot with the organization moving forward.
For that reason, next year will be a crucial one for Ansons. Like everyone in the hockey world, he’ll be looking for and hoping for a more normal 2021-22 and he will be one of the oldest players in the league with multiple seasons of experience. He should have a great chance to refine his offensive prowess as one of the top players on his team, while illustrating how useful his physicality and all-around game can be to help the team.