Athanasiou loves to fly -- on the ice or in the sky
Mike G. Morreale
When all is said and done, forward Andreas Athanasiou could turn out to be one of the best skaters of the 2012 NHL Draft.
His acceleration and speed through the neutral zone usually has opposing players on their heels, if not already out of position. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise since the 6-foot, 179-pound left wing takes great pride in exhibiting that quickness each time he steps on the ice for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
"He's really fast, he's quick and he's always making plays out there," Adam Pelech of the OHL's Erie Otters told NHL.com. "He's like [Nail] Yakupov … you have to stay between him and the net."
Athanasiou, No. 40 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the June draft, had 22 goals, 15 assists and a plus-22 rating in 63 games this season, his second in the OHL. In nine playoff games, he has a goal, four points and plus-6 rating.
"Andreas is a great skater, has an excellent first step and gets to top speed in just a couple of steps," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "Andreas has a great wrist shot and excellent release … to complement some very good hands."
One aspect of Athanasiou's game that is a certain talking point among scouts is his ability as a penalty killer.
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"Penalty killing is definitely one of my strengths, because of my quickness," he said. "I can close up the passing lanes for the other team and I can get in and out of the open areas, so I guess I can close in on that one man and make up for it with my quickness.
"I feel I can create a little offensively with the puck when I gain my speed and drive down ice, and can kill a lot of time."
Athanasiou played a big role on the penalty-kill for Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, finishing with three goals and four points in three games.
"Playing hockey is a big grind, so I'll also try and add a little physicality in the corners and go hard," Athanasiou said. "So playing hard is one of the biggest parts of my game."
Athanasiou said he was on skates before he turned 2 years old and began playing hockey at the age of 4.
"My older brother and sister played as kids and my dad was a big athletic guy … he played basketball and hockey and he put me on skates really early," Athanasiou said. "I think I was eight months. I fell in love with the game; I always wanted to go fast and [my father] would be pushing me on the chair as a kid. I just fell in love with the game and I never lost that passion for it."
In addition to hockey, Athanasiou is a big fan of the sport sepak takraw, or kick volleyball, which happens to be a popular sport in Malaysia.
"It's like playing volleyball with your feet, and badminton with the high net," Athanasiou said. "You just use your feet. You can't use your hands. It involves a lot of athleticism. You can play on a … normal gym floor."
Athanasiou said he played the sport in the eighth grade, when his teacher put a team of interested participants together. The team he played for not only won local honors, but traveled to Calgary and finished second among all Canadian teams.
"It involved a lot of athleticism since you have to put your body in a lot of weird positions, but it was a really fun game," he said.
On the ice, the native of London, Ont., wears jersey No. 86 since his birthday falls on Aug. 6. Interestingly, Athanasiou admitted he wouldn't mind becoming an airline pilot later in life.
"My dad is a pilot and an engineer," Athanasiou said. "So school is a big thing in my house. I can't play unless I'm in school, and if I don't get the marks, my mom would take me out of hockey. Being a pilot is cool … being able to control a plane. I haven't taken any lessons, but I used to help my dad when I was a kid with all his testing online and loved it."
But before earning a pilot's license, Athanasiou is hoping to one day make an NHL roster.
"It's a crazy feeling (in his draft year), seeing all the scouts and the crowds and knowing you need to impress them enough into making an easy judgment on draft day," he said. "It's nerve-racking, but I don't let it affect me. I'll do my best, and hopefully it'll work out."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale