It’s quite obvious the Detroit Red Wings aren’t the team they used to be. They reached the playoffs 25 straight seasons between 1991 and 2016 but have struggled since and will be golfing once again this year when the postseason gets underway.
But even so..it’s still hard to believe the team hasn’t boasted a 30-goal scorer since 2008-09 when they lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
That drought is bound to end before the current campaign runs out though as centers Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin need just one and two more goals respectively to reach the 30-goal plateau. Most fans aren’t surprised Larkin will set the milestone as he’s generally regarded as the Wings best player and a budding NHL all star.
On the other hand, there are many who have never heard of Athanasiou and those who have are still trying to figure out how to pronounce his name. Well, the 24-year-old native of London, Ontario is doing the best he can to introduce himself this season as he leads the Red Wings with 29 goals as of March 27th and is second behind Larkin in points with 49 in 70 games.
Athanasiou was drafted in the fourth round with the 110th overall pick by Detroit in 2012. He racked up 110 goals and 221 points in 252 games as a junior in the Ontario Hockey League and got his feet wet as a pro with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League by posting 25 goals and 51 points in 83 contests. He also proved to be a solid playoff performer in both leagues with 42 postseason points in 50 OHL outings and 15 points in 29 outings in the AHL.
The youngster made his Red Wings debut in 2015-16 with a respectable nine goals and 14 points in 37 games. He followed up with seasons of 18 and 16 goals in 64 and 71 contests while his point production increased to 29 and then 33 points. Athanasiou has enjoyed a breakout season in 2018/19 with his 29 goals and 49 points and if he continues to improve at this rate he’ll soon be recognized as a legitimate star.
In the meantime, Wings’ head coach Jeff Blashill is trying to decide if Athanasiou should play on the wing or down the middle of the ice. He played center as a junior, but mainly skated on the flank during his first three seasons in the Motor City. However, Blashill moved him back to center at this year’s trade deadline and he’s scored seven times and added three helpers in the past 10 games.
Athanasiou is well known for his skating ability and speed though and there are those who believe the 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pounder’s skills are best utilized on the wing. He admits to struggling slightly when moving to center several weeks ago because of the additional defensive tasks at the position. But he now feels more comfortable as a pivot position as he’s aware of his defensive duties.
Blashill has given the young man mixed reviews at center and said the experiment works some nights and doesn’t on others. The coach hasn’t yet made his mind up where Athanasiou will play long-term with the squad and admits he’ll have to wait to see who’s in the lineup when the 2019/20 campaign faces off. The roster could change dramatically between now and then with the draft coming up in June and free agency beginning on July 1st.
The Red Wings have a decent shot at the draft lottery and if they should happen to win it and take center Jack Hughes you can bet Athanasiou will be moved back to the wing next year. But for the rest of the season he’ll likely remain in the middle and gain as much experience there as he can. If he can master the position it will certainly benefit the team in the long run as Athanasiou’s confidence should be sky high next October with a 30-goal season under his belt as well.