The 2022-23 NHL hockey season will be here before you know it. For the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason was mostly about tearing it all down, but they did add a few new faces to their roster. Let’s get to know these latest additions to the team as we wait for the puck to drop on Oct. 12. We’ll start this summer series by getting to know forward Andreas Athanasiou.
Blackhawks Sign Veteran Depth Forward
On July 13, the first day of free agency, the Blackhawks signed Athanasiou to a one-year deal worth $3 million. The 28-year-old played the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, where he contributed 21 goals and 19 assists in 75 total games. Last season in particular, Athanasiou was riddled with injuries or out due to Covid protocol. He only suited up for 28 games. But his 11 goals and six assists in that span projects to a 50-point pace in an 82-game season. Of course, this is an extremely small sample size. Who knows if Athanasiou could have kept up this production over a full season. It’s simply hard to gauge his potential when fully healthy.
At the time of the signing, Blackhawks’ general manager Kyle Davidson referred to Athanasiou as “one of the faster players in our league”. This certainly fits the Blackhawks new profile of wanting to play with speed and competitiveness. I reached out to my THW colleague Austin Stanovich, who covers the Kings, to get his opinion on the 6-foot-2 forward.
There were periods where Athanasiou was one of the most exciting and productive players on the team, and then times where he was the most frustrating player and honestly a negative impact. For example, he was really good down the stretch for the Kings and had eight points in his last 10 games of the regular season while the team was in a playoff push. But then he pretty much disappeared in the playoffs, to the point that he was moved from the first line to the third line and even scratched in Game 4 versus the Edmonton Oilers.
Athanasiou’s biggest strength is definitely his speed; he’s one of the fastest guys I’ve seen in a Kings jersey. He creates a lot of offense on the rush but doesn’t do a ton else. His biggest weakness is his consistency and he isn’t very good defensively. He played up and down the lineup with the Kings but was never really healthy enough to find a consistent role. The highs are really high with him and the lows are really low.
Let’s remember Athanasiou only played in 28 games last season, and the previous season was tough for everyone because of the 56-game shortened season due to the pandemic. But what about before that?
Athanasiou’s Road Starts in Detroit
Before his time in Los Angeles, the Woodbridge, Ontario native was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round (110th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. His NHL debut with the Red Wings was in their 2015-16 campaign, where he remained for three more seasons before being dealt at the 2020 trade deadline to the Edmonton Oilers. His short time in Edmonton didn’t pan out, which is how he eventually landed with the Kings.
When looking at Athanasiou’s stat sheet, his 2018-19 numbers with Detroit absolutely jump off the page. In that campaign, he notched 30 goals and 54 points in 76 games. In no other season of his seven-year NHL career has he managed more than 18 goals or 33 points. Ah, and then there’s the 2019-20 season where he was a minus-45 in plus/minus. Ouch!
My THW colleague Devin Little, who covers the Red Wings, provided his thoughts on Athanasiou’s time in Detroit.
There was once a time when Athanasiou was considered a key player for the Red Wings. ‘Double-A’ was fast as lightning and could bring you out of your seat at any given moment. When he scored 30 goals during the 2018-19 season, it seemed like he was going to be a player Detroit could build around for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, the ugliest parts of his game really revealed themselves the following season. He was a minus-45 while mostly playing in a top-six role. Admittedly, the 2019-20 Red Wings were one of the worst teams we’ve seen in the salary cap era, so it’s not like Athanasiou had a ton of help around him, but he wasn’t able to move the needle for Detroit when they needed him to. He would captivate you with his play in the offensive end, and then he would immediately go invisible once the play entered the defensive zone.
Also, he was something of a solo act on the ice. He could create for himself, but he rarely made the players around him better. I wouldn’t call him selfish, but I wouldn’t call him a real playmaker either.
In all, Athanasiou was equally one of the most exciting and frustrating players on the team during his time with the Red Wings. If his coach can utilize his offensive explosiveness while also minimizing the time he spends in the defensive zone, I think he’ll be primed for success in the 2022-23 season.
Obviously consistency is an issue, as well as his defensive play. Athanasiou seems to have caught a little bit of lightning in a bottle in 2018-19. Can new Blackhawks’ head coach Luke Richardson balance Athanasiou’s strengths against his weaknesses, as Devin refers to?
What Athanasiou Brings to the Blackhawks
Athanasiou will be looking for a fresh start with the Blackhawks. Now healthy, he’ll have a chance to be an impact player on a rebuilding team. Based on his skill set and his experience, I would expect Athanasiou to slot into a top-six role. Can he utilize his speed and harness some of that success and production we’ve seen in spurts in the past? Most importantly, can he do it on a consistent basis?
My above friend Austin, who obviously watched Athanasiou most recently with the Kings, gives a similar assessment.
In Chicago, I’m guessing Athanasiou gets a chance in the top-six and if he’s healthy. I’d say 20 goals and 40 points is a really achievable goal for him, maybe even more if he finds chemistry with someone. I’d guess he’s also someone who will irritate fans with that inconsistent play though.
From a business perspective, the Blackhawks are hoping the veteran forward will bounce back to the point where he’ll be of value to a contending team at the 2023 trade deadline. Then they can flip him for more assets in their rebuild. It appears this is the plan, so Athanasiou’s tenure will likely be short-lived.
But that doesn’t mean fans can’t embrace him and cheer him on. After all, his success can eventually be to the Blackhawks’ advantage. Will he build more chemistry and end up on a line with either Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews? Can he finally find some consistency to his game in Chicago? How many goals will he score? It sure will be fun to watch him turn on the jets for some breakaway goals. Time will tell what kind of fit this newest Blackhawk will find with the team.
Is it October yet?!
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.