After inking a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings last offseason, forward Andreas Athanasiou is a pending restricted free agent. Prior to signing with LA, he played 294 games with Detroit (299 games if you include his five playoff games as a Red Wing). Subsequently, he was a trade-deadline pickup by the Oilers in 2020, where he played nine regular-season games and four playoff contests.
Back when he initially signed with LA, I wrote an article for THW about it being a “high-risk, high-reward deal”. The key points made in this article were that he possesses dazzling speed, can dish the puck well, and has a knack for finding the back of the net. However, it highlighted his defensive deficiencies. In his tenure with the LA Kings, he improved defensively, while showcasing flashes of his offensive brilliance. Overall, he was an important cog on the Kings roster, who they should attempt to bring back.
Key Offensive Contributor
During the 2020-21 season, Athanasiou was a key piece offensively for the Kings. Upon arriving in LA, he immediately made an impact on LA’s second line with veteran centre Jeff Carter. Together, the duo possessed tons of speed and worked effectively at the start of the season. Through his first 17 games with LA, Athanasiou tallied six goals and five assists for a total of 11 points, equivalent to 0.65 points per game (P/GP). Furthermore, Carter’s offensive game saw a resurgence during the first few games of the season.
Athanasiou’s offensive game dropped off following his initial success with the Kings, as he scored four goals and added eight assists during his final 30 games of the season. Despite this, his 0.40 P/GP over his last 30 games was still respectable for a player making just $1.2 million. Overall, in 47 games played with LA, he scored 10 goals and tallied 23 points. These numbers ranked among LA’s best, as he was tied with Trevor Moore and Gabriel Vilardi for fifth on the team in goals, while being tied with the same two players for sixth in points.
Athanasiou was the Kings’ second-best even-strength contributor in 2020-21. He was tied for first on the team in even-strength goals (10) with Anze Kopitar and his 22 even-strength points were tied with Alex Iafallo for second on the team behind Kopitar.
Athanasiou improved a great deal defensively in 2020-21. In 2019-20, he had the worst plus/minus in the NHL with a minus-46. This year, he was a minus-6. Although this isn’t a number to brag about, it is an improvement of plus-40 compared to his previous season. Furthermore, he posted a positive takeaway-to-giveaway ratio for just the third time in his career with LA. He had 18 takeaways compared to 10 giveaways in 2020-21, making him a plus-8 in this area. For perspective, his previous best in this regard came way back in his rookie season of 2015-16, when he was plus-4 on takeaways/giveaways.
His physical statistics (blocks and hits) remained low, similar to what they have always been throughout his NHL career. With LA, he transitioned from being a centre to a left-winger, thus he only took four faceoffs in 2020-21 and he won all four of them. Comparatively, prior to this season, he’d never had a faceoff percentage (FO%) above 45%. Although his FO% of 100.0 from 2020-21 is unsustainable, it does indicate he could become a winger who can take faceoffs when a centre is waved out of the faceoff dot.
Extending Athanasiou’s contract would be a low-cost endeavour for LA. The former 30-goal scorer hasn’t hit said plateau since 2018-19. Considering nobody paid him based upon his potential goal-scoring last offseason, it’s unlikely a team would cough up serious money for him after his 23-point, 0.49 P/G season in 2020-21. Despite this, he was a solid middle six contributor for LA, and while other teams may not be interested in his services, the Kings should be. By no stretch of the imagination is he a shutdown forward, either. Due to these factors, the Kings should be able to re-sign one of their best even-strength producers on a cheap contract, similarly to how they brought him onto the team in the first place.
I am a lifelong hockey fan who will be covering the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks here at The Hockey Writers. Before joining The Hockey Writers I spent two years blogging about hockey.
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