Why Andreas Athanasiou really needs more ice time

Andreas Athanasiou is a hot topic for Wings fans. 

While the 21-year old has impressed quite a bit so far, perhaps better than some would’ve expected from a 110th overall pick, he’s still struggling to find his place in the Detroit lineup. However, many believe this is not the fault of the player himself, but more of a issue with head coach Jeff Blashill’s usage.

Via The Detroit News, Blashill had some choice words to say about the youngster.

“I get asked,” Blashill said, of the speedster’s time on ice. “Obviously this seems to be a hot topic.

“I like Double-A as a player,” he said, using one of Athanasiou’s nicknames. “I think Double-A is a good player.”

And that isn’t the problem, or why he deserves ice time. The problem is that Athanasiou is sitting on the bench in favour of worse players. AA isn’t elite yet, but he might as well be compared to a majority of the Red Wings.

In the 2015-16 season, Athanasiou leads the Red Wings in 5v5 P/60. His 2.35 is 0.32 better than Dylan Larkin, the Wings even strength scorer with 36 points. Heck, even with his limited ice time, he would be on pace to score 27 5v5 points if he played all 82 games, behind just Larkin and Gustav Nyquist.

Even though he isn’t elite yet, he certainly has shown his potential in his little ice time. He is 10th in the entire league in 5v5 P/60 with at least 300 minutes, and he is 1st in the league in 5v5 G/60. Yes, you read that right. First. Alex Ovechkin is second, if you want a comparison.

The thing that blows my mind as I list all these rate stats that prove that AA is a good player in the early going of his NHL career is the list of Red Wings forwards that average fewer 5v5 ice time per game. Just two players sit lower than Athanasiou: Eric Tangradi and Joakim Andersson. That’s right, even Tomas Nosek, in the six games he played, played more than AA does every game. Consistent healthy scratch Tomas Jurco plays more. Landon Ferraro, who was apparently bad enough for the risk of waivers, played more. Teemu Pulkinen, who apparently isn’t good by Detroit’s standards either, played more. The list goes on.

“Double-A is a good player who’s growing.
Double-A will prove whether or not he can be an elite player, but when
he left the American League he was not an elite player. So, to think
that he’s all of a sudden going to come here and be an elite player is, I
think, asking a lot of him.”

Listen, I get the argument that AA isn’t elite yet. You know why I get that? Because he hasn’t been given the chance. And why should we be surprised, considering that Blashill has been notorious for his player deployment this year. Unless he’s trying to prove a point with the veterans or management that he needs to play the young guys in order to succeed in some massive long con that he’s playing, Blashill believes that AA is not as good or reliable as Luke Glendening.

And that is a problem. If a coach would rather have a guy who will be no better than a fourth liner on the ice instead of some one who makes the most of his minutes, then he is a coach who has serious player evaluation problems. This stems all the way back to the Wings mentality of letting the young players play in the minors for several years (an argument for another day).

Sure, veterans have their value. Especially the Wings, as this is a group that hasn’t missed the playoffs in 25 years. But, how many of these veterans have actually been successful. The only players on this team that played a game in the 2008 playoffs are Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm, Johan Franzen, and Niklas Kronwall, and only Jonathan Ericsson and Justin Abdelkader were added in the 2009 finals run. Any of the other “veterans” have any experience with the Wings, except how to make the playoffs and get kicked out in the second round.

And look at how far these veterans have gotten the Wings this season. They relied on the Ottawa Senators beating up the Boston Bruins to get into the playoffs, and are currently facing an 0-2 deficit to a Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman-less Tampa Bay Lightning (ironically, their best players in those two games were 26 year old Alex Killorn, 25 year old Tyler Johnson, and 22 year old Nikita Kucherov).

So, the Wings are down 0-2 to a Lightning team that is using it’s speed and youth to overpower the veterans that are being relied on. The Wings are in a “back against the wall, do or die situation” in game 3. They lose, and they’re in a position that only four teams have ever overcome. So, what better way to shake the momentum up then to shake up the lineup. Put AA in the top six. Play Brendan Smith over Kyle Quincey or Jonathan Ericsson. Play Tomas Jurco over Luke Glendening. If it works, you’re back in the series. If it doesn’t, then you’re out of a series that you haven’t shown much fight in anyways. It might shake up the dressing room, but maybe that’s just what they need to get back in this series.