The Detroit Red Wings drafted both Martin Frk (49th overall) and Andreas Athanasiou (110th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. However, Frk, who was claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes via waivers last October only to be reacquired by Detroit less than a month later, is off to an impressive early start with the club in 2017-18. Athanasiou, on the other hand, is chasing a contract outside of the NHL across the ocean.
Only two games into the regular season, Frk has made an undeniable impression, tallying two goals, one of which occurred on the power play, and one assist. Skating on the second line with two of Detroit’s most-prized youngsters, Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin has afforded the 24-year-old winger a great opportunity to display his skill and worth to the team. The youthful trio was also the Wings’ most dynamic and cohesive line combination during the preseason.
Playing alongside talented teammates is not a new concept for Frk. During his junior career with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, he skated on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon. It’s no surprise that sharing the ice with NHL caliber forwards would increase his offensive production and he totalled 84 points (35 goals, 49 assists) with the Mooseheads in 2012-13.
While Athanasiou’s contract standoff with the Red Wings helped create a roster spot for Frk , it was also his work ethic and determination that helped him finally put on the regular season sweater of the team that drafted him five years ago, not to mention a little bit of luck on the waiver wire along the way as well.
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A Tale of Different Players
While it’s still much too early to predict who the better player from Detroit’s 2012 draft class will be, given the amount of NHL games played is in Athanasiou’s favor, it is still worth noting. One player has a locker in the dressing room at Little Caesars Arena, the other is halfway across the world and slowly but surely running out of time to play in the NHL this season.
If he wishes to play in Detroit this year, Athanasiou and his agent will need to come to terms on a deal with the team by Dec. 1. According to MLive, the speedy forward may be running out of options to make more money overseas:
Russia no longer appears to be an option for Athanasiou; Ak Bars Kazan rescinded its offer and the KHL is one-third of the way through its 60-game season. Athanasiou is losing money by the day.
Fingers point in a few directions as to why the talented young player has yet to re-sign with the Red Wings. Many would enthusiastically fault general manager Ken Holland’s inability to properly manage the salary cap, others would blame Athanasiou’s reputed over-confidence and character flaws.
Let’s not forget that during the 2011-12 OHL season, he requested a trade from the London Knights when he wasn’t happy with the amount of ice time allocated to him. Last season in Detroit, he averaged 13:38 minutes of playing time per game, placing him 26th out of all 36 players who suited up for the Red Wings in 2016-17. It’s not hard to imagine that he felt he deserved more minutes, and he may be justified.
Had he be given a larger role with more minutes in Detroit’s offensive scheme last season, it’s likely that he would have scored 20 or more goals. Being a 20-plus goal-scorer would have gone a long way in validating his current asking price of $2.5 million per year.
Being both a proud and historic Original Six team, the Wings and their management are not going to think twice about walking away from a player with a history or tendency to think of himself more highly than he ought to. Just look at the message the team sent by exposing Petr Mrazek in the expansion draft. For better or worse, Detroit’s current front office will stick to their guns.
Frk does not have an electrifying NHL highlight reel but he’s certainly working on it. One year ago he wasn’t even a member of the Red Wings’ organization, now he’s playing in the top-six alongside new fan favorites. His roster spot, one that Athanasiou could have easily made a bid for, is one that he will have to continue to earn as the season progresses.
Frk’s Golden Opportunity
All the stars are aligned for the young-Czech to crack Detroit’s roster this season. Along with Athanasiou’s job search elsewhere, preseason injuries to fellow wingers, Tyler Bertuzzi and Evgeny Svechnikov, allowed the hard-shooting forward to make a name for himself in Hockeytown. Although it remains to be seen just how many NHL games he will play in during the 2017-18 season.
As it stands now, no one is ready to replace him in the lineup. The above video shows how effective he has been playing with Mantha and Larkin, and while the sample size may be small, it offers a brief glimpse of future productivity from the talented young line. Once the injuries to Bertuzzi and Svechnikov heal, they could quickly challenge Frk for a job in Detroit if his play begins to show signs of inconsistency and/or concern.
If Athanasiou ends up signing a new deal with the Wings before the Dec. 1 deadline, it will create some interesting decisions for the club moving forward, both strategically and financially. There will undoubtedly be many factors to consider if such decisions are to be made, including the team’s standings and the overall performance of the roster. For now, it’ll be enough to see how this lineup featuring Frk will continue to play as it faces tougher and more challenging opponents.
Left handed hockey fanatic, born and raised in Erie, PA. Currently residing in Nashville, TN. Proudly covering the Detroit Red Wings.