Wild prospect has small stature, long track record
Sam Anas was cut from his high school's varsity hockey team as a freshman living in the Washington, D.C., area."It was kind of an awakening for me," Anas said.That he needed to improve his skills, sure. But also that he would need to prove himsel...
Sam Anas was cut from his high school’s varsity hockey team as a freshman living in the Washington, D.C., area.
“It was kind of an awakening for me,” Anas said.
That he needed to improve his skills, sure. But also that he would need to prove himself more than others at every corner. That’s a consequence of a small frame. Anas, signed by the Minnesota Wild to a two-way professional contract in April, was listed at just 5 feet 8, 160 pounds at the Wild development camp.
The smallest players currently on the Wild’s NHL roster - Jordan Schroeder and Jared Spurgeon - are 5-9.
“His size is his size,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He’s not going to grow. He might get stronger, but he’s not going to get taller. So at this stage he is what he is, but he’s very talented, very smart and to this stage of his career his attributes have continued to transfer to every level he’s played at.”
The 23-year-old forward is a native of Potomac, Md., in an area that doesn’t produce much NHL talent. Yet he chose to graduate high school from the same school he attended since he was in third grade.
He committed to Quinnipiac out of high school but first spent two years with the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League, tallying 37 goals and 26 assists in his second season.
Newly appointed Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde coached against Anas while coaching the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Lalonde remembers an Anas goal in a playoff series between Green Bay and Youngstown that turned the series momentum in the Phantoms’ favor.
“He can create offense out of any situation,” Lalonde said.
That’s Anas’ calling card. Despite his size, Anas said he’s willing to battle in tight spots, but his offensive skills set him apart. Anas scored 22 or more goals in each of his three seasons at Quinnipiac, including 24 goals and 26 assists last season as he earned first-team All-America honors while leading the Bobcats to the NCAA title game.
“He’s kind of had that chip on his shoulder at every level,” Lalonde said. “He was told he wasn’t going to be able to do it in the USHL, and he flourished. He was told he wasn’t going to be able to do it in college, and he was an absolute superstar in college. And I’m sure he’s been told again that it’s going to be hard for him at the next level.”
Anas said he’s had plenty of doubters at each level. To this point, they’ve all looked foolish.
“It’s kind of fun,” Anas said. “I love proving people wrong.”
Anas has found ways to play at every level, despite his lack of size, adapting his play as necessary.
“I don’t know if I can quite say I mastered it at the college level,” he said, “but I definitely was used to it and knew what worked and what didn’t work and how to use it to my advantage.”
Fletcher said Anas’ skills and hockey sense have transferred over to each new level. Still, being successful in the pro game figures to be an entirely new challenge.
Can Anas continue to flourish?
“It’ll be fun for him to see where he stacks up in training camp,” Fletcher said. “I wouldn’t bet against the kid.”
As for Anas’ small stature, Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir said it’s not as big an issue as it used to be. The game has evolved to protect skill players.
“You can’t really clutch guys anymore,” Bombardir said. “You can’t grab them, you can’t hook them, things like that. So if you have a small guy, that doesn’t really worry me.”
Bombardir said Anas’ intellect should keep him out of other potentially dangerous spots for small players on the ice - the same ice smarts that make him such a dangerous offensive player, along with his quick hands and ability to navigate traffic.
That was all on full display, Bombardir said, during Thursday’s open scrimmage. Anas scored a goal on a play in which he held onto the puck, put down two defenders, waited out the goaltender and finished on an essentially open net.
“To see that poise, the understanding of where he was on the ice, and what everybody around him was doing and to finish like that, very few players can do that,” Fletcher said.
From Anas’ height, to his journey from his hockey-unknown hometown to a university that wasn’t known as a collegiate hockey power until Anas’ arrival to being an undrafted free agent, Fletcher said Anas has been swimming upstream throughout his career.
Anas signed with Minnesota because he sensed an opportunity. He called the Wild the “perfect fit.”
Last week marked Anas’ fourth different development camp. But unlike in previous years, when Anas walked into Xcel Energy Center he found his name listed on the first depth chart alongside two first-round picks.
“It’s definitely cool to see that,” Anas said, “and see what they think of me.”
Although Anas has had detractors, he said someone has given him a shot at each level - as the Wild did this time - and he has seized the opportunity on each occasion.
“It’s worked out for me and I think the team, too,” Anas said. “So whether that was the USHL or college or hopefully now in Minnesota and Iowa, I’m going to be able to prove everyone else wrong, and, more importantly, prove these people right.”