DALLAS – Pavel Datsyuk knows talent when he sees it, and the way the veteran star sees it, the Red Wings have something very special in speedy Andreas Athanasiou.
“He don’t have speed he’s lightning,” said Datsyuk when he was asked to comment on the rookie’s highlight-reel goal during Monday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.
As awe-inspiring as Athanasiou’s speed is, Datsyuk said he’s more impressed by the rookie’s finishing ability.
“Not just the defense, but he surprised goalie probably,” Datsyuk said. “Goalie fell down, but it’s more important he makes his move and everything and he scores. Sometimes it’s everyone talk about move, but it’s more important he scores. He finished it.”
Lightning struck twice Monday as Athanasiou scored two goals in regulation, but it was the move he made with speed entering the offensive zone that had many of his teammates singing the young player’s praises afterwards.
“He used his speed and you definitely saw his skill come out there on the second goal,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “It’s great to see all these young guys in our lineup stepping up.”
In a tied third period, Athanasiou gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead when he turned defenseman Johnny Oduya inside out, toe-dragging the puck in front of the Dallas net before lifting a backhand shot passed the out-stretched arms of a diving Antti Niemi.
“I was picking up a lot of speed in the D-zone, the puck funneled up to Larks on the wall and he made a great play to take the D out and kind of leave a little room to pick up the puck,” Athanasiou said. “I was coming in with a lot of speed and fortunately that move worked out.”
It was a move that’s not foreign to Wings coach Jeff Blashill, who saw similar tricks from Athanasiou when the two were together with the club’s minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids.
“I’ve seen it from Double A so it’s a great moment,” Blashill said. “We want guys that can make plays out of nothing and that was certainly a great one.”
It’s budding stars like Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin that convinced general manager Ken Holland to let Monday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline expire without striking a deal for a rental, who’s likely to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
“If you go out and bring in some people all I’m doing is taking ice time away from somebody,” Holland said. “There’s only so much ice time to go around and we think that some of the people we’ve got here, I think we need to believe in them and keep giving them ice time.”
Athanasiou logged 11 ½ minutes of ice time Monday and was credited with four shots on goal, which is his career high in 18 NHL games this season.
“The one thing Double A can really do is he can separate himself with speed,” Blashill said. “You either separate yourself with speed or you separate yourself with strength and he does it with speed. It’s hard on goalies. It’s hard on defensemen when he’s attacking with that level of speed. He is like Larkin in that they can skate full speed and make plays. And that play might be a toe-drag, that play might be a shot, that play might be a pass. Very few guys can do it. He can do it. I thought he was feeling it tonight so we tried to get him on the ice as much as we could.”
Since being recalled for a second time this season, Athanasiou has three goals and three assists in 12 games. He had one goal – a game-winner in a 1-0 win over Washington – during a six-game stint earlier this season. With the Griffins this season, he had eight goals and eight assists in 26 AHL games.
The increased trust garnered from the Wings’ coaches is a boost for Athanasiou, who said, “When you get a little opportunity and every game I get and every shift I get I kind of build up a little more and get a little more confidence out there. It’s just growing with every shift and every game.”