Today starts a series of posts where we will give our individual rankings of the top 15 Red Wings prospects. Just so we are clear - We are ranking prospects who have yet to graduate to the NHL level. So with that being said, you're not going to be seeing Xavier Ouellet, or Alexey Marchenko throughout this series. Yes, I am aware they haven't officially graduated, but I have a tough time considering them prospects at this point.
First up on the docket is forward Andreas Athanasiou, the flashy, electrifying playmaker coming off of us his first full season pro with the Grand Rapids Griffins. The former 2012 110th overall pick spent his junior years between two teams in the OHL. The first half was spent with the London Knights, while the other half was with the Barrie Colts. While AA (his nickname for obvious reasons) never wracked up large amounts of points until the tail-end of his stint in the OHL, he always shows flashes of sheer brilliance with the puck. Whether it's his speed, puck control, stick handling, or his ability to make opposing defenders look absolutely silly, Athanasiou has just about every tool a playmaking center needs.
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Athanasiou made his pro debut in 2014 with the Grand Rapids Griffins after a career-high 95 points in the 2013-2014 OHL Regular Season.
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One of the most valuable assets Athanasiou has in his arsenal are his first three strides. Smooth, efficient, and downright fast. This is why we see him blowing by defenders so frequently - His ability to gain and maintain skating speed is next-to-none among all Red Wings prospects.
"I can use my quickness to my advantage to break the puck out of the D-zone. I think I’ve become a defensively sound player. It was a big step into the AHL but coach (Jeff) Blashill helped me with that. I learned so many things from him. In practice and in games he taught me so many things."
Athanasiou put up 33 points his rookie season with the Griffins despite being sidelined a chunk of the season with a broken jaw. He spent six weeks with his jaw wired shut, and faced significant weight loss, which in turn had a large effect on his game. Athanasiou came back and posted nine points in 16 playoff games during the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, which is impressive for a rookie coming off such a staggering injury. I can sit here and babble on about Andrea Athanasiou and his elite abilities, but Michelle had given me her run down on the 20-year-old Barrie native:
Andreas Athanasiou is the 20 year old center drafted 110th overall (4th round) in the 2012 NHL entry draft. Athanasiou is a dynamic player who will bring out to the edge, or out of, your seat every time he’s on the ice. His blazing fast speed, explosive take off, highly skilled hands, and creativity, combine to make him a very exciting prospect for Detroit. In an attempt to give people an idea of what to expect from AA, the comparison "Darren Helm with hands" has been used to describe AA, but I strongly dislike it because it sells Athanasiou’s skills short. Athanasiou has incredible speed and acceleration that propels him past anyone else on the ice, but as Helm has shown us repeatedly, speed alone can be frustrating when hands can’t keep up. Athanasiou possesses highly skilled hands that can do amazing things with the puck at high speeds, and he processes the game so fast mentally that his decision making and patience while flying up the ice makes the best use of his foot speed. Combine all of that with his creativity and outside of the box thinking and he’ll successfully make moves and score goals that most players wouldn’t even attempt. Some players can skate fast, but Athanasiou plays and thinks fast and is able to fully utilize his speed.
Speed and offensive instincts have been Athanasiou’s strengths since his days in the OHL, and while it often takes players some time adapt to the AHL form juniors, AA made his transition to the AHL seamlessly. He scored 32 points (16G, 16A) in 55 games with Grand Rapids last season, despite suffering a broken jaw, losing 20 pounds, battling the flu which caused him to lose more weight, and suffering a seriously injured finger in the Griffins’ final round of the playoffs. Despite missing 7 weeks with a broken jaw and losing 20 pounds he has yet to recover, Athanasiou never looked out of place in the AHL and that’s a testament to his natural abilities, work ethic, and attitude. He was also the 5th leading scorer on the team in the playoffs with 9 points (5G, 4A) in 16 games.
Even from a defensive standpoint he’s caught on quickly and was one of the Griffins’ most lethal penalty killers. His speed is a great asset for back checking and he’s able to take offensive risks because he has the ability to cover for and recover from them if they don’t work out as planned. Athanasiou has caught on and advanced quickly so far in his pro career and I expect that trend to continue. At this point he’s already ready for a call up, in order to see what he can do at the NHL level. He won’t be kept in Grand Rapids long and once he’s given the opportunity to make the NHL, he’ll run with it. Right now he’s at the top of my list for Griffins callups based on merit.
Athanasiou’s a natural center but ended up playing mostly wing in the OHL. In every situation Blashill used him in (Grand Rapids, Development Camp, Prospect Tournament) he’s always been a center and that’s where I think he should stay. With his skating abilities, offensive skills, quick thinking, and creativity on the ice, Athanasiou will be a top 6 player, probably best suited for #2 center; I don’t rule out #1 center potential but it’s not the most likely scenario. A very good #2 center or a lights out #3 center is where I see him slotting in for the Wings. He brings up the play, energy, and production of everyone he plays with and that’s a very valuable quality in any player.
Athanasiou has elite NHL skating ability with incredible acceleration and blazing top speed. He loves using his speed to drive wide and can flat-out beat defenders with his feet, often times making this look downright silly. He also beats defenders with his stick handling, creativity and deft 1-on-1 moves. He’ll score beautiful, highlight-reel goals but also has top notch play making abilities. In on the goalie 1 on 1, in the shootout, or on breakaways he’s a high percentage shooter and pulls out moves that make goalies want to hide in a hole. He’s a huge threat on the penalty kill as well as the power play. Nothing seems to be able to hold this kid back and he continues to excel despite injuries and setbacks. AA’s individual strengths are fantastic, but all his skills, talents, attitude, determination, and confidence combined into one player is a pretty amazing package.
So where does Andreas Athanasiou rank among all Red Wings prospects? He is clearly on the fast track to an NHL career, so here are most of the WIIM crew's opinion on where Athanasiou ranks:
JJ - #2
Graham - #3
Kyle - #4
Michelle - #2
Jeff - #4
Joe - #2
Caleb - #3
Christian - #3
Prashanth - #2
As you can see, the lot of us agree that Andreas Athanasiou is one of the Red Wings most promising prospects. After sustaining a nasty injury in his rookie season, he'll look to bounce back and give the Griffins a full season of impact offense.