Kraken Could Give Athanasiou a Place to Thrive

After a 30-goal season in 2018-19, Los Angeles Kings winger Andreas Athanasiou has struggled to find consistency in the prime of his career. The Seattle Kraken may present a good opportunity for the 26-year-old restricted free agent (RFA) to play top-six minutes and make use of his speed & open-ice creativity.

The Kraken will have a 72-hour window to sign any RFAs not protected from the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Teams will announce their protected player roster on July 17, four days before Seattle makes their selections; remaining RFAs may then finalize deals as early as July 28. 

Athanasiou’s goals and point production have steeply declined the past two seasons. Still, his raw skillset, coupled with a likely affordable deal, is worth looking at by Kraken general manager Ron Francis.

Kings May Move on From Athanasiou

The Kings finished sixth place in the Honda NHL® West Division in 2021 but have several reasons to be optimistic for the near future. Franchise cornerstones Anže Kopitar and Dustin Brown continued to surpass expectations late in their careers. Additionally, Alex Iafallo produced enough to earn a new contract, and both Adrian Kempe and RFA Trevor Moore scored at the highest rate for their careers.

Retaining these five forwards allows, most likely, just one more forward to be left unprotected. Brendan Lemieux, Austin Wagner, Carl Grundström, Matt Luff, Blake Lizotte, and Athanasiou are competing for that spot. In addition to their proven veterans and younger depth pieces, general manager Rob Blake will heavily consider how his prospects, such as center Quinton Byfield and winger Arthur Kaliyev, may fit into the 2021-22 season. Per, the Kings have approximately $20.5 million in available cap — a sizable allotment for a team already stacked with young talent.

Quinton Byfield LA Kings Andreas Athanasiou Seattle Kraken
Quinton Byfield is among the Los Angeles Kings’ top prospects (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Los Angeles signed Athanasiou to a bargain one-year, $1.2 million contract this past December. He had just come off a short, disappointing campaign with the Edmonton Oilers, scoring two points in nine regular-season games and zero points in four postseason games. Oilers general manager Ken Holland declined to issue Athanasiou a qualifying offer, investing in a handful of affordable forwards, including Dominik Kahun, Jesse Puljujärvi, Tyler Ennis, and Kyle Turris.

Nonetheless, considering he scored 30 goals the season after signing a two-year, $6 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings, Athanasiou may be looking to earn significantly more than he did with the Kings.

Athanasiou Is an Open-Ice Weapon for the Kraken

Athanasiou may not reach the 30-goal plateau he ascended in 2018-19, but in a top-six role, he can still regularly score at a rate of around 20-22 goals per 82 games. He especially thrives in transitional situations, giving teammates a speedy, elusive option off the rush. He can compete among the NHL’s best when it comes to creativity in open ice, utilizing his elite puck control.

Athanasiou’s time in Los Angeles was a mixed bag but started off promisingly. Tallying six goals and five assists through the first 17 games, he instantly added offensive value to a club that finished 30th in goals-for average the previous year. Strangely, he averaged fewer shots on goal and time on ice during this stretch, but he capitalized on quality opportunities — recording an impressive 20.7 shooting percentage (S%).

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Athanasiou may have scored just one game-winning goal in 2021, but he was instrumental in several Kings’ victories. The team finished just 21-28-7 on the season — including a 3-4-1 stretch when Athanasiou was out with COVID-19 — but was 10-5-4 when he registered at least one point. Part of that success came from his improved responsibility with the puck. He averaged 17.4 giveaways per 82 games, a significant improvement from the 46.2 giveaways per 82 games last season. He also forced more turnovers, taking the puck away 31.4 times per 82 games — his best rate in three years.

The Kraken would likely utilize Athanasiou as an even-strength offensive winger, but they could experiment in a couple of ways. First, they could consider him for the second power-play unit. His best season on the man advantage came in 2018-19 when he averaged 2:13 of time on ice with the man advantage. He potted three goals and added eight assists, generating 36 shots on goal over 76 games — a much higher rate than his eight shots in 47 games with Los Angeles this season.

Additionally, though unlikely, he could slide down to a third-line center. He played the position a little toward the end of the 2018-19 season with Detroit, although he struggled in the faceoff circle; he won only 42.9 percent of draws that season. That said, placing him further down the depth chart could create mismatches, springing him loose for at least a few breakaway goals.

Athanasiou Needs to Find Consistency

Any fan could glance at Athanasiou’s minus-46 rating from the 2019-20 season and raise a red flag. However, the horrendous season from the entire Red Wings team augmented that stat; they finished with 39 points, 23 fewer than the 30th-place Ottawa Senators. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old has to find consistency in several facets of his game.

First, let’s discuss his defensive performance. In 2021 he started 58 percent of faceoffs in the offensive zone (oZS%) but only recorded a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 51.4; this means he didn’t help generate enough chances, or he was on the ice for too many opponent chances. Further, his 0.34 blocks per game were his lowest since 2016-17, and his 0.23 hits per game were a career-low.

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THW’s Quinn McLellan discussed Athanasiou’s defensive shortcomings at the time of his deal with Los Angeles. McLellan noted how, in his abysmal 2019-20 season, he was on the ice for 23 even-strength goals-for but 63 even-strength goals-against. 2021 fared better for the 26-year-old, as he was on the ice for 26 even-strength goals-for, compared to 31 even-strength goals-against. He has yet to reach a positive ratio, despite a career 56.0 oZS%.

Andreas Athanasiou Seattle Kraken
Andreas Athanasiou generated 2.84 shots on goal per game in 2018-19 with the Detroit Red Wings (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Athanasiou has also delivered inconsistent results offensively. He was above-average when it came to creating quality scoring chances in 2021; the team registered an 8.5 S% five-on-five with him on the ice, higher than the 7.3 percent league average. That said, he generated the second-lowest shots on goal rate of his career. His 1.80 shots per game paled in comparison with 2018-19 when he generated 2.84 shots on goal per game. This drop may account for the lower turnover rate I discussed earlier, as Athanasiou perhaps possessed the puck significantly less in 2021.

As mentioned earlier, Athanasiou can play on a second power-play unit, but he has not strengthened his case recently. This season with the Kings, he averaged 1:52 time on ice with the man advantage but just tallied one assist. Additionally, although the Kings were 10-5-4 when he registered at least a point, they struggled in the 28 games in which he was held off the scoresheet — including seven of his final nine games.

Final Thoughts

Andreas Athanasiou turns 27 this August and is still in the prime of his career. His speed and open-ice stick-handling will remain at the core of his abilities for at least a couple more seasons, perhaps warranting a two or three-year deal.

The value of that deal will partially hinge on a general manager’s confidence in Athanasiou’s all-around game. His numbers since 2018-19 have dropped off partially because of the team around him. However, a 30-goal scorer at this age needs to regain his form to live up to his contract and earn ample opportunity on the ice.

A change of scenery and more ice time may be what Athanasiou needs to keep his spot as a top-six NHL winger. Seattle may be the best option for his next home; as we have seen with the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team can bring out the best in a player who has been cast off.

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