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Wings will give Athanasiou time to get up to speed

Team will have to clear cap space when young forward signs contract

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - Andreas Athanasiou is once again a Detroit Red Wing.

The Wings announced before Friday night's game that they had agreed in principle to a one-year contract with the speedy forward, who had been a restricted free agent.

"Monday morning we're going to apply for his work visa," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "I don't know how long that takes, anywhere from a few days to 10 to 14 days possibly. Once that gets approved, then he can come into the States and then he's got to pass his physical. That's the process that needs to take place over the next little while."

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the contract is for $1.3875 million, which means the Wings will have to clear that amount of salary from their current roster.

"Obviously, we don't want anybody to get hurt, but certainly if somebody gets hurt and has to go on long term injury, you clear that money," Holland said. "Ultimately, we're going to have to do something on our roster whether it's short term or long term."

The cap hit takes effect as soon as Athanasiou signs the contract.

Once Athanasiou gets his work visa and passes his physical, it will still take some time for him to get up to speed after missing training camp, the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season.

Holland said Athanasiou could go to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins for conditioning if he and the team believed it was the best idea but Athanasiou would still count against the cap.

"My take is no, I don't think he needs to go down there," Holland said. "Maybe after a day or two, the coach and the player think that's something that would be good for him. In some cases we've done it and in some cases we haven't."

It is somehow appropriate that the deal would come together on a day that the Wings were facing the Washington Capitals.

In a game against the Capitals nearly two years ago on Nov. 15, 2015, Athanasiou memorably scored the only goal in the 1-0 victory, a bad-angle shot that eluded Washington goaltender Braden Holtby.

Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek made 38 saves for the shutout, which included 15 shots by star Alex Ovechkin.

Athanasiou played just 8:52 in that game and averaged 9:01 that season. He averaged 13:28 last season and scored 18 goals in 64 games.

That is something that is expected to change significantly, which is something Athanasiou was seeking.

"We see him as a top-nine forward," Holland said, "Certainly the role that Jeff Blashill sees him for, I'm the same, if you start to play top-nine minutes, be involved in the power play, be involved in the penalty killing, I think you're talking a role more than 13 and a half minutes per game. I can't tell you how many minutes.

"Now in the meantime, we've had a full training camp, there's players in that locker room that - we're 4-3, we were 4-1, we lost the last two games. We'll see what tonight brings, we'll see what Sunday brings, we'll see what Tuesday brings. There's players in that locker room that are laying claim to some of those things that we're talking about. In the meantime, that's what I'm talking about, I think Andreas, we tried to make Andreas understand that when he comes back, that's the vision but now it's a process to get to that point in time."

Holland said he, Athanasiou, Blashill and Athanasiou's agent, Darren Ferris, discussed the process in a conference call this past Monday.

"We talked about integrating him into the team," Holland said. "You're not all the sudden on the power play and the penalty kill and playing 14-15-16, it's going to have to be a bit of a process to get him to the level of conditioning where he needs to be at. You got to be fair to him. I think it's going to take a little bit of time.

"Hopefully he can hit the ground running. He's a young player, very talented player, had a real impact on our team last year and a half. Certainly a player at 23 years of age you project he should improve. How good are young players going to be, you never know until you watch the process play itself out.

"But when he's up and running we think he's a player who's going to make our team better."

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