Nik Antropov’s Hockey Journey From Kazakhstan to the NHL

You don’t see an NHL player from Kazakhstan every day but look no further than Nik Antropov. On Feb. 18, 1980, he was born in Oskemen, Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union; on Dec. 16, 1991, Kazakhstan declared its independence and became a separate nation. Since he entered the NHL, a few players from Kazakhstan have emerged, but none of them have enjoyed the same fame as Antropov. He is the best-known player from his native nation.

Antropov would play in the NHL for 13 years, spending most of that time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that had originally selected and drafted him. He later played for the New York Rangers, the Atlanta Thrashers, and finally, the Winnipeg Jets after the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg.

Antropov’s Junior Career

Antropov, who was raised in Kazakhstan, arrived at the NHL through a pretty unusual path. He participated in numerous junior tournaments for this country, the most notable of which was a 39-point game effort against Iceland in division D, U18 tournament, in 1998. His entry into the NHL was made certain by that game. He set the record for the most points scored in an International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) game with 39 in the game. As a result of this game, he finished the 1998 European Junior Championship (EJC) tournament with 54 points in five games. As a 17-year-old, that works out to 10.8 points a game on average.

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He played in 50 games over two seasons with the Russian Superleague (RSL) second tier, scoring 42 points. While he didn’t post 10.8 points per game, he was steady and demonstrated his ability to perform at a higher level. Antropov’s international career was what set him apart; between 1997 and 1998, he scored 63 points in 21 games for Kazakhstan, including the aforementioned 54-point tournament. It was also in 1998 that he began to rise quickly in the NHL draft rankings, rising from a second-round projection to a top-10 pick

Being Drafted by the Maple Leafs

Antropov was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the number 10 pick in the 1998 NHL Draft when it was expected that he would go in the second round. Considering that he is from Kazakhstan and was on his way to the hockey mecca of the world, that must have been a crazy experience. Following his selection, the Maple Leafs had a choice between loaning him to the RSL to play for Dynamo Moscow or to the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Brampton Battalions. Later, he was loaned to the RSL, where he played for the 1998–1990 campaign. He didn’t have the most productive season, scoring just 14 points in 30 games. However, it was enough for the Maple Leafs, who brought him back over to North America for the 1999-00 campaign. 

Nik Antropov Toronto Maple Leafs
Nik Antropov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

He would then spend the following nine seasons with the Leafs, where he would grow to be a vital member of the group. He and his teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky were a part of the top line with the captain Mats Sundin during his time with the club. Antropov scored 125 goals and 166 assists for 291 total points over his 509 games with the team. He scored 59 points in 81 games during the 2008–09 season, which was his highest point total with the franchise. He was the kind of player fans enjoyed criticizing, but they missed having him on their team when he departed.

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Antropov’s nine-year tenure with Toronto came to an end on March 4, 2009, when the organization traded him to the New York Rangers. However, now he was given a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, something he had never done while playing with the Maple Leafs.

Nik’s Brief Time in the Big Apple

Antropov was dealt to the Rangers for a 2009 second-round pick and a 2010 conditional fourth-round pick, as was previously announced. Kenny Ryan, who spent the entirety of his career playing exclusively in the lower leagues, was chosen with the second-round choice. The fourth pick was voided because the conditions of the trade weren’t fulfilled. He only played in 18 regular season games during his short stint in the Big Apple, but he was productive during that time, contributing 13 points.

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He was brought in to give the Rangers experience and depth for a playoff run, but after seven games, the Washington Capitals eliminated them from the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After the postseason ended, Antropov walked to free agency, ultimately leaving the Rangers

Relocating from Atlanta to Winnipeg

During the 2009 free-agent period, Antropov agreed to a four-year, $16.5 million contract with the Thrashers. This contract is noteworthy because he only played for Atlanta for two seasons before they moved to Winnipeg. His first year with the Thrashers, though, was his best; he recorded a career-high 67 points on the strength of 24 goals and 43 assists. He had a successful second season with the franchise, scoring 41 points before the team moved and became the Jets. Antropov scored the first goal in the Jets’ new history on Oct. 9, 2011, after the team was reborn.

Nik Antropov

Antropov, unfortunately, saw a decline in his value, scoring only 53 points in his two seasons with Winnipeg. His contract expired after the 2012–13 campaign, and he finished his tenure with the Thrashers/Jets with 161 points in 261 games. At 32, Antropov left the NHL after the 2012–13 season and signed with Barys Astana of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He played there for two seasons until he decided to hang up his skates following the 2014–15 campaign.

After his playing career was over, Antropov returned to Canada and concentrated on his children’s playing careers. Danil Antropov, his son, played for the Oshawa Generals and the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL but was not drafted into the NHL. As a development coach for the Maple Leafs, Nik is now working with the players before and after practices, as well as during training camp. Ultimately, Antropov was just a young boy from Kazakhstan who loved hockey, overcame all obstacles, and turned that dream into an outstanding career in the NHL.