Almost somewhat to the surprise of Wings fans, Andreas Athanasiou has actually made the Red Wings 2016-2017 roster straight out of camp. With the 22-year-old still being waiver exempt many thought he may start the year in Grand Rapids instead of losing players to the waiver wire, but, well, I guess we all know how that went by now:
Pulkkinen to MIN.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) October 11, 2016
Athanasiou had a timely impact last year more than anything. He thrived as Larkin hit his production wall and really added some life to a Wings team that looked as though it was going to be on the outside looking in for the first time in 25 years. What AA managed to do in the game vs the Dallas Stars near the end of February really showcased what he brings to the table:
His speed is obviously the thing that jumps out at you first. His explosiveness leaves defenders in their wake. He’s not really reliant on soft hands as much as say Tomas Tatar when it comes to evading defenders, his speed amps up so quickly he’s often just leaving the opposing team without the time to properly react. Athanasiou on the second goal in the video starts from the top of his own crease and in a few strides is at the opposing blue line, has blown past Sharp who is attempting to cover the trailer and has cut from high boards area to almost the opposite face-off dot before anyone has any clue what’s happening.
The league has essentially arrived at a speed game and having someone who can keep pace with Larkin and compliment Nyquist and Tatar is a good start for a speed attack. The problem will be of course getting him into a position to succeed. Take a look at his junior stats and take note of what happens after being traded from the London Knights to the Barrie Colts:
He goes from an incredibly talented Knights team where he was having trouble getting his ice-time to a Colts team ready to play him big minutes and begins to double, then triple his point totals. Now, obviously a lot of that has to do with getting older and more experience but when given the opportunity AA made the most of it. This translated still to his NHL season last year, where his points-per-60 minutes was through the roof due to averaging only about 9 minutes a night.
The reality though is we won’t see him clocking first line minutes, in fact, we’re likely to see him start in the press box until we get an injury. Where we can maybe be hopeful for him though is as a penalty killer. Detroit’s PK last season was awful. It went from being top five in the league to mid-range very quickly. It absolutely needs an overhaul. Blashill said recently that AA is likely going to be one of those guys we see killing penalties this season. They want more pressure and attack on the PK and Athanasiou’s speed could cause some real problems for teams not prepared for it. While it isn’t the most glorious role, it’s a way AA can earn his ice. Blashill is a product of Babcock, whether we like it or not, he still thinks AA has more to do to earn his spot. The PK could be an excellent opportunity to win those minutes over the course of the year and show the staff there is no one more deserving of his minutes.
Throughout this grim week fans can at least rejoice the chance to see this kid stick all year. Should someone on that fourth line fall out of favour, Wings fans could get excited to see AA lineup potentially on the line with Nyquist and Vanek with Helm dropping down. Should Zetterberg’s knee not be up to snuff, he could be skating in a top six role like he was at practice this morning.
The bottom line is there’s a chance for him to earn his ice and I can’t think of a better player to make the most on that opportunity.