Red Wings bank on Athanasiou's return for a lift
Detroit — The Red Wings, in the coming weeks, will add rare speed and reliable scoring to the lineup.
They could use a shot in the arm. Four consecutive losses have dulled the memory of the Wings’ 4-1 start.
Andreas Athanasiou’s immigration process began Monday, coach Jeff Blashill said. The forward, who missed training camp and the early part of the regular season before agreeing to a one-year deal, also must undergo a physical before his new $1.387 million contract is official.
The Red Wings need Athanasiou's goal scoring. They also need forwards who can shut down opponents in their own end.
Dutifully accomplish those tasks and teams win playoff games and good players turn into stars.
Athanasiou seems destined for moderate success as a goal scorer. If he improves in other facets, the forward could prove essential to reconstructing the Red Wings.
“Well, of course, it might take him some time to get accustomed to everything, again, with the system, and what not,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “But I expect him to be ready when he gets here.
“He’s just been waiting for this moment, I’m sure, as everyone has.”
While the date of his return to the lineup is unclear, GM Ken Holland said he may not need a conditioning stint in Grand Rapids.
“You know, with his speed, that alone, and the talent level there’s huge potential no doubt, Kronwall said. “When you get a guy like that out of nowhere, hopefully, it will give you a boost.”
Jeff Blashill has said Athanasiou will need to maximize the ice time he gets. The forward is also expected to take on more defensive responsibilities, although Athanasiou challenges the notion it is a weakness.
Athanasiou is not the only potential Wings star asked to play a more detailed game. Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha face similar challenges.
So, how did the first conversation between Blashill and Athanasiou go, after the provisional signing of a contract?
“Really good,” Blashill said. “I think that he wants to win and I want to win, he wants to have a great year and I want him to have a great year.
“That doesn’t mean it goes smooth, or it doesn’t go smooth,” the coach added.
“With any of these guys, there’s moments when I might be demanding more of given players or there’s moments when I might be upset with certain things, and that’s my job.
“As I said to him: Let’s get in here and go to work.”
The Red Wings told him during negotiations that his time on ice will be at least that of a third line player, but he'll see more time on the power play and penalty kill.
Athanasiou arrives as Riley Sheahan departs. Their development is differently similar.
Athanasiou scores with some efficiency, but the Wings look for more without the puck and perhaps some wiser possessions. Sheahan could not score, but the Wings valued his puck retrieving and possession, his defense and faceoffs.
If Athanasiou continues his offensive development and routinely executes some of the details Sheahan brought to his game, he is the sort of player who can help reignite a franchise.
The Red Wings require stars.
They have Henrik Zetterberg. He is 37.
If they do not get at least a couple of stars out of Athanasiou, Larkin and Mantha, the Wings’ next Stanley Cup is likely well beyond the bend.
With 27 goals and 43 points in 101 career games, Athanasiou has speed comparable to the quickest players of all-time.
Although, that assertion has been corrected before.
“He doesn’t have speed,” Pavel Datsyuk once said, objecting to the premise of a question about Athanasiou’s speed. “He has lightning.”
If he manages the details of the Wings’ system, Athanasiou could also provide some thunder.