A year ago, Andreas Athanasiou was a consensus first-round prospect for the 2012 NHL draft. But a year changed plenty for the London Knights left-winger.
Athanasiou, billed as perhaps the best skater in his draft class, slipped all the way to the fourth round, 110th overall, where the Red Wings selected him following what many describe as an underachieving sophomore season in the Ontario Hockey League.
“He was like a puzzle,” said Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell. “His underage year, I would have bet money he was going to go in the top 15. He started OK, then just sort of went downhill. Really took himself out of anything we had ever projected.”
The 6-foot 179-pounder had 22 goals among 39 points along with a plus-22 rating in 63 games, finishing eighth in team scoring. But during the Knights’ run to an OHL championship, he found himself a regular healthy scratch and had just a goal and four assists in 11 playoff games.
He was again a healthy scratch for the tournament opener at the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que., in May, but returned to score a goal and an assist in three games in London’s runner-up finish.
While being a healthy scratch raises some serious red flags, McDonnell said it’s not as bad as it looks and called Athanasiou a “great kid.”
“One game, he’s a healthy scratch, the next game, he’s playing the point on the top power play, dishing off like he’s Nicklas Lidstrom, and I’m thinking, ‘What the heck?’” McDonnell said. “I did a lot of digging on him, and the coaches love him there in London. They’re teaching lessons, and it’s going to help him in the end.”
From McDonnell’s perspective, Athanasiou’s phenomenal skating is the foundation for a sure-fire NHLer, even though it’s not yet clear whether his hands are good enough to make him a scorer.
“He’s going to be able to play just because of his skating ability and his speed,” he said. “Then it’s just a matter of what he’s going to be. Is he going to be a checker or is he going to be a top-two line guy? That’s what’s going to sort itself out the next five, six years. But in my mind, there’s no question he’s going to play because of his skating.”
Added scout Mark Leach: “Smooth, natural skater, explosive, almost like he floats on the ice, and there’s a lot of upside in his game.”
McDonnell said Athanasiou will get an expanded role with the Knights next season with a number of veterans leaving, and the Red Wings are excited to see what he does with it.
“He’s going to take all he’s learned this year and he’s going to run with it,” McDonnell said. “We’re excited to get him — especially where we got him.”