GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When the 2014-15 season was about to begin, the hype surrounding the Grand Rapids Griffins was all about Anthony Mantha. The 20-year-old averaged more than two points per game during his final season in the QMJHL, and he was the highest draft pick the Detroit Red Wings have had in more than a decade.
However, Mantha’s season was put on hold, as he suffered an injury during the prospects tournament. As a result, Mantha hasn’t had the season everyone was hoping for with just 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games.
With all the attention on Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou came into this season without the high expectations Mantha experienced. He had a very successful final year with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, with 95 points in 66 games, but it didn’t stack up to the success Mantha experienced during his final year. Athanasiou suffered his own injury, a fractured jaw, during the season and had to sit out early in his rookie season.
But since he returned from that injury, he’s been one of the more consistent scorers for the Griffins and has made a case to be higher on the depth chart than Mantha. On the season, Athanasiou has 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 45 games. On Friday against the Milwaukee Admirals, Athanasiou scored the game-winning goal in the closing minutes, as he took a slap shot from Teemu Pulkkinen’s sweet spot, and the puck squirted through Magnus Hellberg’s pads and into the net.
You can see his game-winning goal below starting at 0:35.
“I came down that wing, and I saw an open lane,” Athansiou said Friday after the game, “so I was like I might as well shoot it. I saw it slip under his pad, and I thought it got stuck under there. But when I saw it slip through, and I just watched it trickle — time was going so slow, but it went across the line and I was pretty happy.”
Even though Mantha was the one with all the hype and the illustrious junior career, it’s Athanasiou who has made the most of his rookie season. Mantha, although starting to be more aggressive, often opts to pass the puck rather than shoot and tends to drift toward the outside of the offensive zone rather than finding space down the middle.
Athanasiou, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to take the shot and uses his blazing speed to create scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
Back on March 10, Athansiou, or Double A as he is called by his coaches and teammates, scored a memorable goal against the Charlotte Checkers that showed off his speed and quick hands.
Athanasiou said he enjoyed the amount of love he got from friends after the video of that goal went viral.
“Yeah, that was pretty cool,” he said. “A lot of my buddies texted me and got in contact with me. So, I liked that. It’s just one of those plays that you’re happy with, but that’s in the past now.”
Darren Helm With Hands
A lot of people have likened Athanasiou’s skill set to Darren Helm, because both players have amazing speed. The big difference between the two players is Helm doesn’t have the goal-scoring ability that Athanasiou has, hence the nickname “Darren Helm with hands.” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill doesn’t think the two are as similar as many people believe.
“Lots of guys compare him to Darren Helm, but Darren Helm’s an elite competitor,” he said. “He’s an elite competitor. I think Double A is different. I think everyone compares them, because they are both really fast.
“Double A is a little more of a skill-type player, where Helmer is a little more of a competitive-type player. And the other thing I would say is Helmer has been in the National Hockey League for a long time. Let’s give Double A the opportunity to try and earn that as well.”
Blashill said the moves Athanasiou are able to pull off don’t surprise him anymore. He knows what the 2012 fourth-round pick is capable of but is happy with the improvement in his defensive game.
Against the Admirals, Athanasiou created two separate scoring chances by himself while on the penalty kill. Two chances that were anything better than the Griffins were able to muster during a slow first period.
“It doesn’t surprise me. I judge Double A — he’s got a dynamic skill set,” Blashill said. “He can really skate, he can make plays at high speeds that most guys can’t do. That’s probably what separates him the most. But I don’t really judge him on that as much as I judge him on does he stop? Does he play from the defensive zone with the puck? Does he do the things that will take for him to be successful in the long term? And I thought, overall, he did.
“Yeah, I thought our penalty killers did a great job, and I think he’s gotten better as a penalty killer. I think it’s something he’s going to need to be really good at in order to get himself into the NHL originally, and then you go from there.”
Subscribe to our Red Wings stories to get email updates every time a new story is published.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.