Andreas Athanasiou: The Complete Package

The first thing most people talk about in regards to Andreas Athansiou is his lightning fast speed. It is indeed a wonder to behold, but what really makes him a great player is his combination of speed, skill, and creativity.

The Red Wings drafted Andreas Athanasiou (ath-ehn-uh-SEE-you) with their 3rd choice in the 2012 draft, taking him with the 19th pick in the 4th round and 110th overall. While PA announcers and opposing play-by-play guys may have nightmares about trying to pronounce his name correctly (I've heard some utterly terrible attempts), his speed, creativity, hockey sense, and skill with the puck give opposing goalies, defensemen, and forwards nightmares.

He's had a great rookie season so far in Grand Rapids and currently sits 4th in scoring on the Griffins, just 2 points behind 3rd place Mitch Callahan and 2nd place Andy Miele. He's 10 points behind team leader Teemu Pulkkinen who's kicking everyone's butts in the scoring department. Athanasiou is 12th in rookie AHL scoring with only 5 points separating him from 2nd place. Here's a quick look at his 2014-2015 stats through 25 games.

Andreas Athanasiou 25 7 9 16 8 13 0 1 0.64 0.52 55

AA (Double A) as he's called around the rink, is a dynamic, exciting player to watch almost every time he's on the ice. What makes this 6'2" 200lb centerman a player you'll be hearing a lot about in the future?

Tyler Wright, director of scouting for the Red Wings talked a little bit about Athanasiou's speed in a recent interview.

Another guy in the minors who's gotten off to a really good start in Grand Rapids is Andreas Athanasiou. Speed is his game and he's made that adjustment at the American Hockey League level because of that speed. You don't always have to finish because it still makes you dangerous because the defense have to recognize your speed and respect it and it makes players around you better when you can use that speed.

Even when Athanasiou wasn't scoring a lot of points early in the season, his speed gave him numerous scoring chances and also gave his teammtes more scoring opportuinties. It's not his speed alone that makes AA a great player though, let's look at some video evidence of what he can do.

Exhibit A

This first video is from a game against the OKC Barons on December 5th. It's a simple looking play by Athanasiou to jump on a loose puck and dish off to Anthony Mantha for a scoring chance. He's in good position at the beginning of the play, grabs the puck and slides through two Baron defensemen. One of the things Athanasiou had to learn coming into his first pro season is when it's ok to do everything himself (if he has the chance to do something, do it) and when to use his teammates. This is a case where I'l like him to take the shot himself instead of passing to Mantha, but it's something he's learning and improving on every game.

Exhibits B-E

Now that you're had the introduction, let's move on to something a little harder. The following 4 videos are all from the same game, December 12, 2014 against the OKC Barons (it's just a coincidence I was able to make videos from two games against the same team a week apart).

Exhibit B

Athanasiou benefits from some good work by Mantha to negate the icing and get/keep possession of the puck. Backman makes a smart pinch as Sproul feeds him the puck from the point, and Athanasiou reads the entire play well and makes sure he's going where the puck is going to be; which is right in front of the net thanks to a great feed from Mattias Backman. Easy peasy, lemon squeasy.

Exhibit C

Now we're getting to the really good stuff. This was AA's 2nd goal and 3rd point of the night and was the 2nd of 3 goals the Griffins scored in 2 minutes. The Griffins outburst came with just over 3 minutes to go in a tie game that they won 5-2.

Athanasiou uses his awareness, quick thinking, speed, composure, and hands to score this beautiful breakaway goal. Nick Jensen is the defenseman battling with the OKC forward for the puck. Jensen ties up his man for about 2 seconds and Athanasiou jumps all over.. No, CREATES an opportunity for himself where it looked like there was none. He's in a defensive position between the circles (covering for Jensen who was further up ice- which is exactly what he should be doing and what allows Griffins D men the freedom to be more offensive and take more risks), sees that Jensen has the Barons forward tied up and he can't get his stick on the puck. There's only about a second between the Baron player losing the puck off his stick and Athanasiou stealing it, which shows AA's quick thinking abilities. There's no hesitation from AA as he grabs the puck and goes streaking up the ice. The Baron defender couldn't catch him, even though he had been at the blue line while AA was between the D zone face off dots. The Baron player had about a 40 foot jump on AA and yet had no chance to catch him. Another quick thinking move Athanasiou did was to take a quick look back to see how close (or far) the Baron D-man was, in order to know how much time he had to make his move. It seems like a simple thing to do, but it really is quick thinking on his part because it only took 8 seconds from the time he first touched the puck until it was in the net. In such a short amount of time, for him to not only have the presence of mind to do a quick look back but also remain completely calm and in control shows a maturity and skill level that not a lot of rookies have this early on. He pokes the puck away in the Griffins zone with his backhand, gets control on his forehand, then goes backhand, forehand, pulls it back with his backhand then a perfectly placed forehand shot between Backman's skate and the post. What a perfectly executed breakaway and goal, if only Darren Helm could execute this well.

Exhibit D

Even when he doesn't score a goal, Athanasiou is dangerous. Opposing teams either have to give him time and space, knowing he'll probably score, or focus their attention on trying to stop him, thereby giving AA's linemates more time and space.

In this instance, Alexey Marchenko passes to Kevin Porter who dished to Athanasiou at the Griffins blue line. Athanasiou uses just a touch of speed to skate into the Barons zone, flips/skates the puck between both Barons defensemen and literally skates in a circle around the left D-man while still maintaining control of the puck. By the time Athanasiou passes the puck back to Marchenko at the point, he's drawn all 5 Barons skaters towards himself and they're all in the area from the faceoff circle to the corner where AA is. While every Baron player was focused on Athanasiou, his teammates had the opportunity to get into the zone, get into the play, and set themselves up for a shot on goal and a good scoring chance. Athanasiou makes this entire opportunity happen, and once he gets the puck to his teammates who now have a chance to score, he then goes to the front of the net looking for a rebound or "garbage" goal.

Exhibit E

Tyler Wright said it perfectly. Athanasiou unquestioningly makes his teammates better and creates scoring opportunities for them using his speed, skill, and creativity. Take this next video for example.

You don't always have to finish because it still makes you dangerous because the defense have to recognize your speed and respect it and it makes players around you better when you can use that speed.

Athanasiou wins the faceoff, Mattias Backman has a shot attempt blocked and the Barons race towards Jared Coreau and the Griffins net. Teemu Pulkkinen hounds his man, not allowing him to even get a shot off. Athanasiou and Mark Zengerle sandwich the Baron forward who's trying to get the puck and Athanasiou comes away with possession (this is something that happens a lot). AA skates the puck almost to center ice and sees he has Mantha standing at the offensive zone blue line waiting behind both Barons defensemen. Athanasiou flips the puck up through the air, over both D-men and right onto Mantha's stick. Conventional thinking says you skate the puck into the zone, try to go around the D-men, or try passing to Mantha. Athanasiou, as I mentioned before, is a very creative player. He thinks on the fly and has the skill to make something like this work. He flipped the puck from just before center ice, through the air about 35 feet and right to where Mantha was going to be. I love that he thought to make this move, and that he has the confidence and skill to execute it without hesitation.

Athanasiou has only played a total of 33 pro games in his career and he just turned 20 in August and he's already doing things most players can't or wouldn't think to do. He makes whoever he plays with better, and as Mickey Redmond would say, he's the straw that stirs the drink. Whoever plays with Athanasiou is usually the best line for the Griffins, and putting Mantha with Athanasiou was an A+ (or AA+) move by Blashill because when Mantha's not with Athanasiou, he becomes almost invisible and highly ineffective. It's not a coincidence that most of Mantha's highlights have come when he's with AA. There have only been a few players I've watched come into Grand Rapids from juniors (or Europe for that matter) who haven't had significant growing pains. Athanasiou is one of the few players who have made the jump to pro and barely missed a beat. Petr Mrazek did it and Xavier Ouellet did it, and those are the two examples I can think of right now who made the transition look easy. Even Tomas Jurco was awful for his first few months in Grand Rapids. Blashill had AA centering the 2nd line at the start of the season, and he was getting PK and PP time as well. When Tomas Nosek got injured, Athanasioiu became the top line center and I don't know if Blashill will ever bump him back down, even though Nosek is back. It's been a good season so far for Athansiou and I expect him to continue to developing and advancing faster than average. The AHL will only be able to contain him for so long and I can't wait until he makes it to the NHL.