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It’s not hyperbole when I say Andreas Athanasiou is among the best skaters not currently under an NHL contract.
His wheels and hands are the tools that made him such a highly-coveted prospect heading into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
An apparent lack of a toolbox in which to put them allowed the Red Wings to scoop him up in with the 110th overall pick, stopping his free-fall in the fourth round.
Though he won the J. Ross Robertson Cup with the OHL champion London Knights, it wasn’t a good fit for Athanasiou. His ice time, and production, fell and he was often a healthy scratch.
An August trade to Barrie for a trio of draft picks has paid immediate dividends for Athanasiou, as the speedster is clipping along at nearly a point-per-game pace, with 13 goals and 26 points in 27 games.
I chatted with AA and his coach, the 1,409-points-in-1,188-NHL-games Dale Hawerchuk, after a 4-2 win over the Windsor Spitfires. Here’s what they had to say:
Rob Benneian: Coming up through London’s system, maybe not a great fit. How has this been for a career move for you?
Andreas Athanasiou: It’s a new start right now and I’m happy to be here in Barrie. It’s a great set of guys. I’m learning a lot here. I just gotta keep going. I got drafted by a great organization with the Red Wings, I’m happy where I am right now.
RB: I don’t know if you know this or not, but the Wings brass (Ken Holland and Kris Draper) were in attendance tonight.
AA: I had no idea they were here, I figured with being so close to Detroit (they might). It’s good that I had a good performance tonight (one goal, -1), but now I gotta put it in the past and move forward.
RB: Do they come see you often?
AA: They come to a few games. Jiri Fischer is a great guy, he comes to see me a lot, sends me a texts. He’s really smart. It’s a great organization. They’re really classy genuine people. That’s what I’ve noticed the most is they’re always looking out for the best for me. I know they’re following me.
RB: Obviously had to be a little disappointing, you were projected to go higher, but going to an organization like Detroit must have been great.
AA: Being selected in the first round would have been nice, but there was nothing I could do about it in London with the opportunity but I’m getting the opportunity now. If there was any organization to go to, it was Detroit. They play my style of game and going there was just unbelievable. That’s why they win so much, they pick the right players. It’s a real accomplishment to be drafted by them.
RB: Obviously they gotta like your raw package, the speed, the hands. What do they want you to work on?
AA: They just want me to work on my game to be a complete player. I’m working on that a lot in my defensive zone. I’m a plus player (+7), I’m doing the best I can. They want me to get bigger to take that next step.
RB: I mentioned some of the Wings brass are here, Draper being one of them. In a race between you and Drapes, who wins?
AA: (laughs) Oh jeez. I don’t know. It’s definitely another level up there, they have that next gear. I’ll be thankful to have that in a few years. They’re quick up there, fast, even the prospects. I can’t even imagine the NHLers.
Dale Hawerchuk: We just try to get a good culture going, guys enjoy coming to the rink. We try to do our homework so we’re well prepared. If we get a good culture, I like when they come to the rink and they’re hungry to play hockey. I think we’ve got a hungry group.
RB: You talked about bringing guys in, the culture, doing your homework. What does Athanasiou bring to the team?
DH: He’s such a dynamic threat every time he’s touching the puck. Any time you get players like that it makes your team better right away.
RB: I felt like his goal epitomized what he was all about, burning up the wing and then the nice hands to finish it off.
DH: Yeah he takes advantage of that speed. That’s one thing, speed rules. As defencemen, you have to gauge speed and their guy (captain Saverio Posa) had a tough time and he ended up spinning out. It was a good finish to the goal.