Wings hope Athanasiou’s speed can create chances

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou tries to pass the puck away from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey in the second period.

Detroit — This time, it was a little easier for Andreas Athanasiou.

The speedy forward was called up last Friday from Grand Rapids, and he knew what to expect, he was familiar his teammates.

Nerves? If there were any, Athanasiou tried to work them into a positive.

“You can use them to your benefit,” Athanasiou said of whatever butterflies he had Saturday afternoon against the New York Islanders.

Playing between goal-scorers Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, Athanasiou earned his first NHL assist on Tatar’s second-period goal in the Red Wings’ 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders.

In almost 10 minutes of ice time, Athanasiou also killed penalties and put forth another good impression on Red Wings’ decision-makers with his speed and versatility.

The newly formed line with Nyquist and Tatar has an opportunity to produce offense with their speed and quickness, and in terms of Athanasiou, is an excellent opportunity to show he is ready for a prolonged NHL look.

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The Red Wings want to establish a fast-skating team that can pressure opponents and force the pace.

Athanasiou can help with that.

“Obviously Double-A brings tons of speed, which creates rush opportunities,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “All three are real good on the rush. Nyke (Nyquist) scored tons of goals in his career here on entries and on the rush.

“Not to say they certainly can’t create offensive zone opportunities as well. We think they can be a dangerous line offensively.”

A former 2012 fourth-round draft pick, Athanasiou, 21, has the high-end speed that is so important and vital in today’s NHL.

That speed complements the varied games of Tatar and Nyquist, who also have fine speed and could excel in an up-tempo game style with Athanasiou.

“He’s got to be a guy who drives that speed, drives our ability to put other teams on their heels,” Blashill said. “

It’s not easy for a young player such as Athanasiou to simply move up from Grand Rapids and center two proven NHL goal-scorers.

There’s a learning period, knowing where the wingers like the puck, knowing where they’ll be.

“We had a practice (Friday), so we got a little bit of chem(istry) going, (but) they’re two elite forwards,” Athanasiou said of playing with the two veterans. “Maybe my speed can complement their skill and assets. I’m just going to try to do the best I can and hope to open the ice for everyone and play my role.

“You have to make sure you’re doing the little things right and when you get the chance, you have to make the most of it.”

Blashill coached Athanasiou for two seasons in Grand Rapids and believes the young forward does bring an element with the breakneck speed.

Athanasiou’s presence in the lineup also gives the Red Wings versatility, with Blashill able to use Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together, and have three potential offensive lines.

“We had flexibility to move guys on different lines (Saturday) at different times,” Blashill said. “(Tomas) Jurco’s goal was an example of that, where he was up with Nyquist and Double-A on that particular one and Tats had taken a shift up.

“That’s based on things like coming off power plays, penalty kills (and) it’s making sure the right ice time is given to the right guys as much as we can.”