Athanasiou At A Glance
Birthday: 8/9/1994 (21 years ago)
Drafted: 2012, 4th Round (110th overall)
Height/Weight: 6’2”/200 lbs
What He Did This Year
Athanasiou spent a good chunk of the 2015-16 season in the NHL. He played 6 games with the Red Wings in November and scored his first NHL goal against the Capitals before being sent back down to Grand Rapids. Over his next 13 games in Grand Rapids Athanasiou posted 14 points, bolstering his case that he belonged in the NHL full-time. A knee injury in late December kept him out of the Griffins’ lineup for about a month but soon after returning he was called up to the NHL and stayed there for the rest of the year. In 31 games for the Red Wings from February onward Athanasiou posted 8 goals and 5 assists. His aggregate point totals aren’t impressive but that’s mostly due to the very short leash Athanasiou was kept on, not unlike other young players on the Red Wings’ roster.
It’s hard to amass a ton of points when you’re only given 8 minutes of icetime per game. That task becomes even harder when you’re being played with 4th liners like Joakim Andersson and Luke Glendening. But that didn’t stop Athanasiou from scoring some highlight reel goals and showing off his unique blend of size, speed and skill.
If you’ve got 5 or 6 minutes to spare, I’d highly recommend checking out the video below from awood40 that showcases each of Athanasiou’s NHL goals. It’s clear the Red Wings have an electrifying offensive talent on their hands, even his near misses brought every fan at The Joe out of their seats.
Athanasiou’s lightning-quick acceleration and blazing top end speed is only rivaled on this roster by Dylan Larkin and Darren Helm. But what we’ve learned from Helm these past few years is that while speed is great, being able to handle the puck with any kind of precision at top speed is another thing entirely. Athanasiou does so effortlessly. No matter how fast he’s going or where the puck is, AA’s puck skills are off the charts. There’s something very Datsyukian about what he’s able to do with the puck.
But that’s not all. Athanasiou’s shot is deceptively hard and terrifyingly accurate; he’s able to fool goalies with more than just a slick toe drag or some other finesse play. His goal against Ottawa is a perfect example of this. All alone in the slot, Athanasiou doesn’t bother handling the puck unnecessarily, he just rips it as hard as he can towards the net and is rewarded with a goal. Given his offensive prowess, it’s not surprising he led the league in 5v5 Goals/60 minutes this year among skaters with 300+ minutes at 5v5.
Obviously this is more of a product of the limited minutes Athanasiou played than his own ability, his G/60 rate is roughly the same as Alex Ovechkin’s. So don’t expect him to sustain these levels across a full season with a fair amount of icetime per game, this is just how rate statistics work. But scoring at the same rate per 60 minutes as the best goal-scorer of this generation over 36 games isn’t anything to turn your nose up at.
All in all, Athanasiou is an exciting player to watch. He’s a terrific playmaker and uses his feet, shot, puck skills and passing prowess to overwhelm defenders. Double A is a special offensive talent and he’s only going to get better as he gets more NHL experience.
What AA Needs To Work On
Apparently it was Athansiou’s play defensively kept him from getting more icetime with the Red Wings. The numbers certainly suggest Athanasiou’s got a way to go before he can be labeled a great two-way player in the NHL.
So, he’s not so great defensively but is that really much of an issue? His defensive numbers don’t look much different than Larkin’s or Justin Abdelkader’s. Yet neither of those two players had their icetime cut to 8 or 9 minutes per night because of their defensive game. Larkin got a pass because of his youth, it’s unfair for Athanasiou to receive a different treatment. With more time to adjust to the NHL and better linemates to help him, who’s to say Athanasiou’s defensive numbers wouldn’t have improved?
Expectations For Next Year
Given the signings of Steve Ott, Thomas Vanek, Darren Helm, Frans Nielsen and Drew Miller it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of space on the Red Wings’ roster for Athanasiou. His waiver-exempt status gives the Red Wings some flexibility with where he plays. Also, given that he’s not been a “superstar in the AHL”, we should expect him to start the year in Grand Rapids. It’s possible he makes the team out of camp but I personally wouldn’t bet on it.
The Red Wings will probably be looking for Athanasiou to tear the AHL apart and prove, once and for all he’s NHL ready. He needs to do just that. Athanasiou needs to score a lot of points and look good doing it. He needs to work on his defensive game and show he can make an impact on every shift. If he does everything the Wings ask, he’s done all he can to show Ken Holland and Co. he’s an NHL player and that’s good enough for me.