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Notes: Athanasiou practices with Wings, could play Thursday against Tampa

DeKeyser also could get back in the lineup against the Lightning

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

TAMPA - Andreas Athanasiou had finished skating and working out Tuesday and was settling in for a nap at home in Toronto when he got the phone call he'd been awaiting.

Kim Brodie, the assistant to Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, said his work visa was ready and the car would be there to pick him up and drive him to Buffalo in 30 minutes.

Athanasiou said his bags were still packed from Switzerland so he grabbed them and was soon on his way to rejoin the team.

After passing his physical, Athanasiou watched his team lose a 1-0 game to the Sabres and then flew with them to Tampa.

"It was a good feeling," Athanasiou said after practice at Amalie Arena. "It just feels good to be back in the rink and with the guys. It's a lot of fun."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill had Athanasiou on the second power-play unit with Dylan Larkin, Martin Frk, Anthony Mantha and Mike Green, indicating he could be in the lineup Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Again, I've got to talk to everybody after and if he's in the lineup, certainly that's where he was last year," Blashill said. "It was a real good unit. As I said coming back after last year that we were trying to keep those units as similar as we could, certainly if he's in the lineup, that's a spot that I want him in. I think ultimately we'll probably hold him out of some PK time in his first few games. Ultimately he'll be killing penalties, too."

Athanasiou, 23, scored 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games last season after recording nine goals among 14 points in 37 games in 2015-16.

During practice, Athanasiou skated mostly with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm, but Blashill wasn't sure if that line was set quite yet.

"He's had good chemistry with Nielsen," Blashill said. "The other thing I gotta look at at some point is he's had good chemistry with Mantha in the past as well. He was playing center more at that point in GR (Grand Rapids) and he might at some point play center for us. Let's see where that goes. But he certainly had chemistry with Nielsen, so it's something we'll look at."

As a restricted free agent, Athanasiou did not have leverage as he was not yet arbitration-eligible.

Athanasiou and his agent, Darren Ferris, considered offers from Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) teams and Swiss League teams.

"It was definitely an option," Athanasiou said. "I was definitely taking it into consideration pretty big. Every decision I was making was carefully assessed. I was valuing each high points and each low points and I made my decision."

While skating with HC Lugano in Switzerland, Athanasiou had a conference call with Blashill and Holland a week ago Monday that helped get the deal done, one year for a reported $1,387,500.

"Obviously you're always trying to work out a deal and the goal was to play in the NHL," Athanasiou said. "When you're restricted there's not much leverage you have but I found out a lot about the business and I kind of saw what the asking price was for me so I could see that and I'm happy to be back here with the guys."

Blashill and Holland assured Athanasiou during the call that they saw him as a top-nine forward who would see plenty of ice time on both the power play and penalty kill once he was up to speed.

"You always want to play hockey. No one likes to sit," Athanasiou said. "We spoke about it a little bit. You gotta earn your ice. I think that's what I've always tried to do and no matter how much ice I got I always tried to make the most of it. I'm never bitter about it. I always do the best with what I got and just go from there."

Blashill, Holland and Athanasiou all wanted to make sure the lines of communication were clear and open.

"I definitely cleared some of the stuff for sure and I think that's a big part about it," Athanasiou said. "I'm a smart kid and when I'm spoken to, I listen. I try to learn from my mistakes and all that and try to keep taking steps forward. Definitely cleared some stuff for sure."

Although the Wings had offered a two-year deal in addition to the one-year contract, Athanasiou said he does not regret his choice.

"I'm confident in my abilities so whatever deal I would have taken would have been carefully assessed and I would have made sure it was the right deal and I would be happy with it," Athanasiou said. "I'm happy with one year and we'll have those arbitration rights. I think the main goal right now is just to help the boys as much as I can."

Athanasiou said he watched Wings games as much as he could with the time difference and stayed in touch with most of his teammates.

He said he was also bolstered by Wings fans on social media.

"I did see a lot of love from the fans," Athanasiou said. "That was a big part of helping me get through it. I could see all the support they were showing me. It felt good to have that. It's definitely a big part. They show a lot of support and I want to provide as much entertainment as possible."

If Athanasiou plays Thursday, he'll be jumping in against one of the best teams in the league in the Lightning.

The Lightning are 8-1-1 and have won three straight. They defeated the Wings at Little Caesars Arena the night of the conference call.

"They're definitely a hot team right now," Athanasiou said. "If I'll be in I'll be ready for sure and I'll be ready to do my best but you can't look at it as that. Any night, any team can beat anyone in this league so you can't really think about that."

The Wings are hoping that Athanasiou can provide a spark with his remarkable speed and skill and that the adjustment period is a short one.

"We hope that it's smooth," Blashill said." Lots of times, it isn't. Lots of times the first couple of games are real good and then there's a lull, and then you kind of get back going. That's how it works lots of times. It doesn't mean it has to be that way. The positive is there's chemistry involved with him. It's not a new player. It's somebody who's done lots with these guys, whether it's the power play or the penalty kill or our system.

"I'm hoping it can be an easy transition."

DEKEYSER COULD ALSO PLAY: Defenseman Danny Dekeyser, who has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury, could also join the lineup Thursday against the Lightning.

"I'll talk to our group and see where he stands," Blashill said. "But certainly if not tomorrow, then the next game. He's certainly getting real close."

DeKeyser blocked a shot against Dallas on Oct. 10 and had to leave the game.

DeKeyser has been practicing regularly with the team, including Wednesday in Tampa.

"It felt pretty good," DeKeyser said. "We'll see tomorrow how it kind of feels in the morning and if it improves a little bit more it would be nice."

Although he is not yet pain-free, DeKeyser believes he is very close to game-ready.

"It's not 100 percent but we'll kind of see what the tolerance level is and what I can do," DeKeyser said. "If I'm going to be out there, I've got to be out there playing hard and making sure I'm battling in the corners. I can't be out there floating around and playing soft. I've just got to make sure I'm playing hard."

Although he started the season paired with Trevor Daley, DeKeyser skated in practice with Nick Jensen.

"I thought Johnny Ericsson was our best defenseman last night," Blashill said. "Him and Daley have been a good pairing. I don't think we'll throw DK into the fire right away. I think we would slip him in and adjust the pairings as needed. But I think Johnny and Dales have been a real good pairing with the exception of the Vancouver game, which all of us were awful. They've been a real good pair. Johnny gives Dales some meat, some muscle, some heaviness, and Dales does a good job of skating the puck out. I'm not necessarily tied to going back to that."

WITKOWSKI'S ROLE: The Wings signed Luke Witkowski in part because of his ability to play both as a forward and as a defenseman.

Although he has played in games as a forward, Wednesday he practiced as a defenseman.

"I think Luke has done a good job," Blashill said. "He doesn't get lots of minutes but that's a little bit part of the role, is it allows other guys to have those minutes. They go 11 and 7 a lot for that same purpose. I think he's done a good job. We try to practice him - right now, Luke's not in our lineup tomorrow - and if he was in our lineup, we'd have him at forward. But when he's not, we try to practice him at D so he can get some practice at D."

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