Crucial Season For Andreas Athanasiou Begins Tuesday Night

Can he prove to Yzerman he's part of the future?

Will Burchfield
October 08, 2019 - 4:58 pm

© John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

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Dylan Larkin has high hopes for the Red Wings' offense this season. He believes it can be "explosive." 

Its most explosive player will make his season debut Tuesday night in Andreas Athanasiou. 

Athanasiou, who missed Detroit's first two games with what he called "a lingering tweak" from the preseason, will center the team's second line between Luke Glendening and Taro Hirose. After finishing last season strong, Athanasiou is eager to pick up where he left off. 

He reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time and scored a career-high 54 points in 2018-19. He thrived down the stretch amid a transition from wing to center, notching eight goals and 15 points in the final 16 games, playing primarily with Glendening and Hirose. His speed meshes well with the rookie's creativity and the veteran's ability to retrieve pucks. 

"I think all three of us bring a lot to the table," Athanasiou said Tuesday. "We impact the game. Taro and I play well together, he’s always looking, and Glenny’s a workhorse out there opening up ice. It's three players that can click together and hopefully get it going early." 

It's an important year for Athanasiou. The Red Wings weren't ready to commit to him last summer, signing him to a two-year bridge contract that expires after this season, and he's yet to cement himself in the team's future. It was Ken Holland's team then. It's Steve Yzerman's now, and Athanasiou needs to show the new GM he can be a pillar of this rebuild. 

That will mean continuing to score goals and to take over games with his skill. When he's on, Athanasiou is dangerous like few players in the NHL. "He's such a self-creator," Blashill said. It will also mean improving defensively, especially as a center, and producing with more consistency. While Athanasiou dumped in 30 goals last season, he went 11 games without a goal twice. 

Most importantly, Athanasiou needs to show Yzerman he's ready to dig in every night. He took strides in this area last season, but there were still games where he was prone to coast and drift, which can't be the case for a player who wants big-time minutes. He played 16:58 per game last year and can expect a good bump this year. It will be up to him to keep those minutes coming, especially on nights the results aren't there. 

The results have started coming in droves for the trio of Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, three young forwards united on Detroit's top line. They're starting to look like the core of this team moving forward, not that Larkin's place in the picture isn't already secured. Athanasiou, 25, is right there with them. If he proves capable of driving the second line, he'll ensure he's part of the future, too.

That process starts Tuesday night against the Ducks. It can be accelerated on the power play, where Athanasiou produced 11 points last season and where he'll man the half-wall on the second unit. He'll see plenty of the puck at that position, which is exactly why Blashill likes to put him there. 

"One, he can score on his own, so you have to respect his shot. Two, he can make plays and find the open guys," Blashill said. "And then on the entries he’s a threat to score anytime he gets the puck, so I think it gives us two dangerous units." 

Dangerous units are fueled by dangerous players, and that's what the Red Wings are looking for as their rebuild continues. Athanasiou has been a big part of it so far. He has every chance to be a big part of it moving forward.

If that's Yzerman's decision next summer, it belongs to Athanasiou in the months ahead.