Sports Hockey

Recently acquired winger expected to get top-6 minutes

By Stephen Sweet, Special to Postmedia Network

Andreas Athanasiou (86), shown here as a member of the London Knights, takes a crosscheck in the back from Shawinigan Cataractes Morgan Ellis during the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que., last May. QMI AGENCY FILES

Andreas Athanasiou (86), shown here as a member of the London Knights, takes a crosscheck in the back from Shawinigan Cataractes Morgan Ellis during the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que., last May. QMI AGENCY FILES

With a fresh season comes new opportunities.

And no one might be set to reap those more than Andreas Athanasiou.

The speedy winger was dealt to the Barrie Colts from the London Knights less than a week ago, and he’s had no problem adjusting to his new surroundings.

“I think it’s a good fit for me here,” said Athanasiou following the first day of scrimmages at the Barrie Molson Centre. “The boys are real nice and the staff is welcoming, so they’ve made this feel like a good place.”

Athanasiou came over from London following an up-and-down season with the Knights.

On some nights in the post-season, he was a healthy scratch, while during others, like the Memorial Cup final, Athanasiou was out there in the game’s critical moments.

“I definitely learned a lot,” said Athanasiou, who was born in London but now lives in Woodbridge. “I matured a lot over the year and I’m proud of the way I handled everything.

“It was a bit of a tough year, but I’m looking forward to trying to go all the way with this Colts team.”

If Athanasiou pans out as Barrie head coach Dale Hawerchuk sees it, the 20-plus goal scorer might have some big shoes to fill.

“When you lose a guy like (Ivan) Telegin, the skating threat that he was, this felt to us like

a piece that we really wanted

to move forward with,” Hawerchuk said.

And while Athanasiou’s speed and fluid stride is a given, he also showed some smarts during the first on-ice sessions, aligning himself to make solid passes and become part of the rush.

“I think my hockey sense (is a real strength),” said Athanasiou, who now also considers his shot one of his top assets. “I know what’s going on, how to lead the rush, and follow the play.

“It’s stuff that I strive on and I’ve definitely improved a lot.”

He also made a great read on an opponent’s slow-moving pass in the neutral zone and picked it off, flicking the puck past the defenceman to break in alone.

“You could see from the scrimmages that, if you just let off the gas pedal a little bit on this guy, he chips it by you, and he’s gone,” Hawerchuk said.

“With the evolving of our young guys and still having players like (Zach) Hall, (Anthony) Camara and (Steven) Beyers, he gives us a real threat like (Telegin) did.”

A likely candidate for second-line duties, Athanasiou is thrilled at the notion of becoming a full-time, top-six forward.

“Definitely,” he said. “You know, it’s just about getting the opportunity and playing hockey, and that’s what you come here to do.

“I feel like if I get those minutes, I’ll definitely produce.”

Athanasiou put up 22 goals and 15 assists last season as a member of the Knights, and only appeared in 11 playoff games during his draft-eligible year.

So he realized that the talk of him winding up as a first-round NHL pick before last season wouldn’t come to fruition.

“I knew that (the drop) was going to happen and it was something I couldn’t control,” Athanasiou said. “I didn’t really get my share or opportunity to do what I could do, or show what I could throughout. So I knew that I was going to drop down.”

He eventually was taken 110th overall by the Detroit Red Wings, but he’s out to prove that he’s more valuable than a fourth-round selection.

“I’m going to show everyone else that Detroit got one of the best picks in the draft,” Athanasiou said. “I know Detroit got a good pick and I’ll make sure that they’ll be happy with me.”

Barrie should be too, doing their due dilligence on a trade that took a couple of months to be finalized.

“You always do your homework on guys, and sometimes, it doesn’t work in a place,” Hawerchuk said. “Maybe London had too many of his type (of player), and that’s when a trade is good for both teams.

“We just felt that he was an ingredient we needed.”

Athanasiou, who has already settled into his billet home, comes to town ready to compete.

“I want to win a championship,” he said. “I’m a real team guy. I’ve been winning all my life, with Team Ontario, as well as the Knights, and I want to win that Memorial Cup.”

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