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Andreas Athanasiou in line for more ice time

Red Wings forward hopes to showcase speed, skill with increased minutes this season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

DETROIT -- Andreas Athanasiou started to make a name for himself with the Detroit Red Wings last season. Not that everyone could pronounce it.

In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop made two saves in the third period. Speaking to the Tampa Bay Times afterward, he had no trouble with the name of the first Red Wings player he stopped: Brad Richards.

"The second one," Bishop said, "was 'Happy to See You.'"

Who?

"How do you say it?" Bishop asked.

Ah-tha-nah-SEE-you.

"That's him," Bishop said with a laugh.

Bishop wasn't so happy to see Athanasiou in Game 3.

Video: DET@TBL, Gm1: Bishop stones Athanasiou's rebound try

Athanasiou, who grew up watching YouTube videos of future teammate Pavel Datsyuk to pump himself up before games, did his best "Magic Man" impression in the first period, cutting one way on defenseman Jason Garrison, then cutting back the other way, leaving Garrison on his knees.

Though Athanasiou failed to finish that play with a goal, he beat Bishop in the second period, and the Red Wings won 2-0. It was their only win of the series.

The Red Wings have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 25 consecutive seasons but have lost in the first round three years in a row and four out of the past five. Whether they can extend their playoff streak and go deeper in the postseason in the future depends a lot on the development of their young players, Athanasiou among them.

Athanasiou, a fourth-round pick (No. 110) in the 2012 NHL Draft who turns 22 on Saturday, made an impact in limited ice time as a rookie. He had nine goals and five assists in his first 37 regular-season NHL games, averaging 9:01 of ice time, giving him 1.62 goals and 2.52 points per 60 minutes, best on the team in both categories.

He made highlight-reel plays along the way, like Feb. 29 against the Dallas Stars, when he turned Stars veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya around with a toe drag and flicked a backhand shot past goaltender Antti Niemi for his second goal of the game in a 3-2 victory.

Video: DET@DAL: Athanasiou nets his second goal on backhand

Naturally the question was why Athanasiou wasn't getting more ice time.

"It's such a tough situation," Athanasiou said Monday after working with kids at the Red Wings youth hockey camp at Joe Louis Arena. "Obviously with the team we had, there's reliable players that the coach has. Obviously when you step in halfway through the season and produce, it kind of puts them in a situation where they have to juggle lines and stuff. We did a pretty good job with it.

"Unfortunately I got the minutes I got, but I'm not complaining. I'm OK with that. Obviously I want it to be more, but it was just my foot in the door there."

Now the question is whether Athanasiou will get the chance to play more this season considering the Red Wings have a surplus of forwards and a philosophy of patience with young players.

He has two valuable things you can't teach: speed and skill. Now he has to be more consistent in all areas and earn the coaches' trust in the defensive zone, so he can play in more situations in what should be another tight playoff race. He has to earn more ice time; coach Jeff Blashill has to give him the chance to earn it.

Video: PHI@DET: Athanasiou buries a shorthanded breakaway

"I'm fortunate enough to be blessed with speed," Athanasiou said. "Everything else can come hand in hand with that. I've got the hardest parts of the game down pat. The other parts can come, and it's just going to be work."

Keep a few things in perspective:

First, just because Athanasiou produced in those minutes doesn't mean he would produce at the same rate with more minutes.

The only players who had more than the 1.62 goals per 60 minutes with more than 37 games played were Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (1.87), who won the Rocket Richard Trophy scoring a League-high 50 goals, and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (1.65), who won the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy (46 goals, 106 points). Is Athanasiou that good? Or would he revert to the mean?

The list of players who had more than 2.52 points per 60 minutes with more than 37 games played is longer, but is filled with stars, veterans and elite young players like Artemi Panarin of the Blackhawks and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.

Video: DET@PHI: Athanasiou shows off his speed for goal

No, the Red Wings don't necessarily need Athanasiou to keep producing at that rate to play him more. But general manager Ken Holland and his coaches have never simply given young players jobs and big roles. They have made young players ripen and often over-ripen, forcing them to take jobs and big roles from veterans. With no mandate from ownership to tear down the roster and rebuild, they aren't going to change now.

The Red Wings have parted with Datsyuk and Richards, but kept Darren Helm and signed forwards Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek (They also signed Steve Ott, but Ott will compete for a spot on the fourth line and shouldn't affect Athanasiou, who likely will play in the top nine). Unless the Red Wings trade a forward or two for a defenseman, which they would like to do, they will have a logjam up front.

Athanasiou can't take anything for granted. As he said, he needs to work on "being the player I can be every night." If he does that and becomes what the Red Wings call an "everydayer," Blashill needs to give him room to grow.

The youth hockey campers knew who Athanasiou was Monday. No doubt some of them had watched his highlights on YouTube, the way he used to watch Datsyuk's.

"A lot of them were coming up and saying, 'Happy to see you,'" Athanasiou said.

Maybe next year they will say, "Ah-tha-nah-SEE-you."

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