Height & Weight: 6’2”, 188 lbs
Drafted: 2012, 4th Round, 110th Overall
Birthplace: August 6, 1993, 25 years old, Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada
What Earned Him This Ranking?
There’s no doubt about what got Andreas Athanasiou this lofty ranking all the way into the Top 3. Athanasiou was second on the team in scoring and point totals to Dylan Larkin, posting 30 goals and 24 assists for 54 points in 76 games. AA was finally able to put it all together on a more consistent basis and show the team the difference maker he can be.
Athanasiou’s primary weapon has always been his elite speed. Larkin won the fastest skater a few years back, but if given the chance Athanasiou may actually be able to top that mark. He has put that speed on display many times as he generates a lot of chances by either getting behind the opposing defence for a breakaway pass or just head on blows by them as he rushes up the ice. Despite teams knowing of the threat his speed presents, defences still have trouble properly positioning themselves to keep him to the outside.
But it’s not just his quick and powerful strides that make Athanasiou dangerous, he has a great set of hands that he’s been able utilize to finish his chances when given an opportunity. It’s hard to say if his feet or his hands are faster, he often makes quick, subtle puck moves while at top speed to catch defenders with their sticks in a bad position and allowing him a lane to the net.
Athanasiou also possesses what might be considered an underrated shot. He has a career shooting percentage of 13.1, posting a 13.9 shot percentage last season. Part of that high mark is that he does put himself in position with his speed to get to more dangerous shot positions, several of his goals are via clean breaks to the net. But he’s also able to score from distance at times. He has a tendency to really wind his wrist shot up, which is likely putting a higher velocity on the puck despite the goaltender being able to see him building to the shot. When you combine that with the fact this speed is allowing him to change the angle faster than other shooters despite perhaps not shifting the puck as much during his shot motion, it starts to paint a picture of why he’s maintained as high of a shooting percentage as he has. Here’s a video of some of his highlights from last season where you can see his speed and hands on display.
What Does He Need to Improve?
Athanasiou has always been fast, but what he’s often knocked for is his propensity to use that speed more often in the offensive direction than on the back check. Blashill has harped on him often, sometimes publicly that he needs to play both sides of the ice and not get caught trying to cheat his way ahead of the play to have a chance at a breakaway. The numbers tend to back up this sentiment as despite his ability to generate offense, his numbers like Corsi and xGF% are in the negative.
The other area you’d like to continue to see improvement from Athanasiou is his playmaking. Despite his assist total growing each season since he entered the league, his goal totals almost always outpace his assist totals and that’s generally a sign of a guy who tends to lack ability in getting his teammates chances. There’s nothing wrong with being the trigger man, but in AA’s case it’s likely a result of his high end speed often leaving his teammates behind and not allowing them to catch up to the play. It’s not often you’ll see him working a puck down low for an extended period before finding a teammate in a dangerous spot. He is more of a quick strike, off the rush offensive player, but if he could develop the possession and passing side of his game better he could raise his overall ceiling and become more multidimensional.
What to Expect From Him?
Going into this season there’s no reason not to expect Athanasiou to once again put up 30 goals. He should have ample opportunity having secured himself a spot in the top 6, regardless of linemates, his ice time should reflect that position. He’ll also see plenty of powerplay time given the other current options on the roster.
One thing you should not expect from him is to see him at center much. While the team did experiment with him there towards the second half of last season, Yzerman more or less put an end to that by signing Filppula, if not squashing it before that anyway. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as was previously noted he has struggled with the defensive responsibilities of a center and this frees him up to cheat a little more on the wing and try to get open for stretch passes which is a large part of his bread and butter. For an in-depth look at his production at both positions, Prashanth did a great piece on him back in April.
Another thing to keep an eye on with Athanasiou this year is that he’s playing for a new contract. If you recall, negotiations were previously contentious with him missing the first month or two of the season before bridging to signing this deal that’s coming to an end. Given the current RFA market difficulties around the league it’s possible that if he has another productive year negotiations could be problematic once again, especially with other profile RFA’s to be Bertuzzi and Mantha. Don’t be surprised if until an extension is signed, you hear Athanasiou’s name in trade rumours once again.