Every now and then I like to highlight players around the league that I think are being significantly under-appreciated either in their current roles or by their current teams to potentially identify players that could benefit a team wise enough to buy low on an asset with significant potential.
Today, we’ll take a look at Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.
Who the heck is this guy?
Great question...Athanasiou is from London, ON and began his junior hockey career playing for the London Knights. After two decent yet unremarkable seasons playing behind outstanding older players, Athanasiou was eligible for the 2012 NHL draft, where he was taken 110th overall by the Detroit Red Wings despite ranking 41st among North American skaters in the final rankings by NHL Central Scouting. He really began to emerge as a player in his draft +1 season which he played for the Barrie Colts after being traded in the summer of 2012. He scored 29g-38a-67p in 66 games in the regular season and produced another 25 points in 22 playoff games that year.
If you don’t consider that his breakout performance, then it certainly came the following season. As we know, in the CHL, players should produce more offence each year as their bodies continue to develop and they go from being the youngest players in the league to some of the older ones. Still, Athanasiou’s fourth and final OHL season was impressive. He scored 49 goals and added 46 assists for 95 points in 66 games for Barrie finishing 5th in league scoring, just behind some guy named Connor McDavid.
After a decent yet unspectacular rookie pro season in Grand Rapids, Athansiou would play 26 games of a 2nd AHL season before being called up to the Red Wings.
A few other details I should add...he’s a left shot who I believe has spent some time at both centre and left wing. He’s also just 22 and in the final year of his ELC and with his limited NHL time, I suspect could be re-signed for decent value over the next few years.
For a better understanding of who he is, and what he looked like as a young prospect, check out this great profile on him by the brilliant folks at Winging it in Motown from 2014.
How has he done in the NHL?
Well, in 2015/16 he played 37 games for Detroit producing 9g-5a-14p despite averaging a total of only 9:01 in total ice time per game. You read that right. He put up those numbers while playing less than 10 minutes a night for less than half a season. That averages out to an even-strength scoring rate of 2.38 points/60 minutes of ice-time, which was the 10th best scoring rate among any player who played at least 200 minutes of 5v5 hockey in the NHL last year (and was the highest rate of production on the Red Wings). Obviously he wasn’t facing the best opposition of being tasked with significant special teams responsibilities, but given his limited opportunities, I think it’s fair to say from an offensive standpoint, he made the most of them.
That hasn’t changed this season either. Thus far in 2016/17, he’s played in 24 games and has 6 goals, 4 assists and 10 points, again despite only playing about 10 minutes a game at even strength and some spot duty on each special team. That works out to a 2.46 points/60 minutes of even strength ice, which is again in the top 20 among NHL players playing 200 minutes or more.
Why is he having so much success?
Athansiou has some size, he’s 6.2" and 188 lbs so he’s not about to get pushed around at the NHL level, and he’s a very fast skater, which is important for a guy with some size. Maybe most importantly though? He shoots the damn puck. A lot. With the loss of Taylor Hall Edmonton has a noticeable lack of volume shooters. Guys who get the puck to the net and hope for good things to happen. Athanasiou is that in spades. Over his (albeit brief) NHL career, AA has produced 9.66 shots/60 minutes of ice time, which ranks in the top 25 among regular NHLers over the last two seasons.
His possession numbers aren’t great but aren’t terrible and it’s fair to say he’s bounced around the line-up in Detroit without ever finding a home. If you look at his most common teammates by ice-time, the top 5 are all defencemen and the only forward he’s shared even 20% of his ice-time with to-date is Luke Glendening, and even then it is just barely.
Why would Detroit trade him?
I can’t say for certain that they would but I think they might, and here’s why. First, he’s not a guy that is being counted on by Jeff Blashill. In fact, he was healthy scratched recently with Blashill criticizing his recent performance. That said, as a young player, I don’t think they’d be quick to give up on him with the exception of this fact: I don’t think they can protect him in the expansion draft.
If you look at Detroit’s situation as it relates to the expansion draft, it seems fairly certain they would keep 7 forwards, 3 blueliners, and a goaltender. At forward, Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha seem like givens. Then they have only two additional spots to decide between long-time vets (with significant term remaining) in Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, plus young forwards like Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Martin Frk, Luke Glendening and Athanasiou. I’d have him on my list, but I’m not so sure the Red Wings will over guys like Abdelkader and Helm.
Offering up a young asset like a draft pick or a young pro player who is draft exempt might be enough to pry Athansiou free from Detroit, and since they appear headed for a re-build, non-roster assets don’t seem to be off-base in terms of what a suitable return might be.
All-in-all, is Athanasiou a can’t miss star player? No, but you don’t often find those guys in "undervalued" situations. I think he’s a player who might be obtainable for a reasonable cost and that might be able to offer significantly more than what he is being given the opportunity to do with his current team. I think he could be a legit top 9 contributor for years to come and if the team is likely to move on from Benoit Pouliot in the near future as it seems may be likely...Athanasiou could be a guy who could step in behind Maroon and Lucic and provide some scoring depth on the left side next season.
Some smart team should be trying to pry him lose from Detroit before June...possibly even before the trade deadline since Detroit is not likely to be in the playoff hunt. That team should be the Edmonton Oilers.