Red Wings’ Athanasiou coming of age as goals mount

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Winnipeg, Manitoba – In Andreas Athanasiou’s hopes and expectations, it was just one more progressive step in a career still very much in its infancy.

But it was good step. The third-year pro matched last year’s point total (29) in 12 less games (52), and with his 13th goal in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in St. Louis.

He scored 18 last season, so Athanasiou is likely going to at least tie that mark this season.

But, in all, it was another example of Athanasiou, 23, making progress this season.

“I’m just playing my game, and have a little more opportunity, and producing a bit more just comes with that,” Athanasiou said.

Athanasiou is seeing more time these days with Dylan Larkin, which has helped the offensive output for both.

And Wednesday, with the trade of linemate Tomas Tatar, former Grand Rapids teammate Tyler Bertuzzi can now be found on the Larkin line.

Athanasiou likes the potential of the line.

“I’ve had experience playing with Bert in Grand Rapids, and going all the way back to Traverse City (in prospects camp),” Athanasiou said. “It’s always fun being able to play with Bert.”

Going through the NHL for a second season, and getting comfortable in the league and against certain players, has made it a bit easier this time around.

“Anytime you get more experience, and you get the chance to grow and learn, it always helps,” Athanasiou said.

A contract impasse forced Athanasiou to start his season late, on Oct. 26.

But Athanasiou has overcome two lengthy goal-scoring droughts to still be ranked among the team leaders, and with his speed and shot, is always a threat.

“Andreas has improved his game from a year ago in a consistency perspective,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

“Winning puck battles, puck races, those types of things, and that’s what any player needs to do to go from good to great.

“A player has to show up every single night and compete like crazy. That’s what all the great players in this league do.”

Back home

Darren Helm was born and grew up in Winnipeg, and this trip was hardly his first coming through Manitoba, but it’s still special coming home and playing in the NHL in front of family friends.

“I enjoy it, I still do,” Helm said. “Just seeing some friends that I don’t get to normally see a lot. My parents are coming down to see the game tonight, my brother and his wife and their son, they’re all coming to the game.

“Just all the people I don’t generally get to see a whole lot, and I enjoy seeing.

“It’s really special in that sense.”

Helm estimates that if all his cousins ever came to one single game, he’d have to leave around 20 tickets.

But Helm estimates he left nine tickets for Friday’s game.

“About the normal number,” Helm said.

“Some people have left town. But it’s still fun to play here.”

Ice chips

Blashill feels the Jets are among the best teams in the NHL right now.

“They have some big, fast forwards,” Blashill said.

“It’s probably the best combination of size and speed in the league.

“They have a ton of depth up front.”

…The Red Wings have had some difficult one-goal losses this season, Wednesday’s in St. Louis the latest, but Blashill is pleased with how the team has responded this season after those defeats.

“We’ve done a good job all year of picking ourselves up,” Blashill said.

“We haven’t won enough of them, so we sit where we sit, but all year long we’ve continued to get back up.”

… Athanasiou played on a line in Barrie, in junior hockey, with Winnipeg star Mark Scheifele (51 points in 47 games).

“We played one year together, I played on his line, he’s unbelievable,” Athanasiou said.

“It’s crazy how good he is. He was one of the best players in junior hockey across Canada.”

… Blashill got a kick out of reading about Cleveland Cavaliers player J.R. Smith being suspended for throwing soup at an assistant coach.

“I actually just read that article and thought to myself I’ve never had soup thrown at me, so that’s a good step,” Blashill said.