Meet the new Blackhawks: Andreas Athanasiou

Athanasiou, who turned 28 over the weekend, can <em>fly. </em>

With the Blackhawks in rebuild mode, they didn’t sign any long-term free agents this summer. Instead, they picked up some players on one-year deals to potentially flip at the NHL Trade Deadline in 2023. One such player is Andreas Athanasiou, a speedy middle-six winger that missed much of last season due to injuries and COVID-19.

Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings with the fourth round in the 2012 NHL Draft (110th overall), Athanasiou skated in 294 games with Detroit over a five-year period, producing 154 points (83 G, 71 A). He was able to reach a 0.71 point-per-game rate during the 2018-19 season (30-24-54 in 76 games) but has hovered around 0.45 points-per-game for most of his career.

After a short 13-game stint with the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers – nine regular season games and four in the bubble playoffs – in which he had just two points (1 G, 1 A), Athanasiou signed with the Los Angeles Kings, where he’s been the past two seasons. It was a good move for the forward as he was immediately placed in a top-six role on a young but up-and-coming roster. Although Athanasiou was only able to play in 28 games last season with the Kings, his production rate of 0.61 PPG (11 G, 6 A) was the best it’d been in years.

Although Athanasiou is known for his speed, his shot quality and quantity have impacted his production the most over the years. His 10.22 shots per 60 rate puts him in the 93rd percentile for the league and his 4.63 chances per 60 is in the 63rd percentile. Unsurprisingly, Athanasiou generated a lot of shots off the rush: 13.51 per 60, good for 97th percentile. But he also was very good off the cycle as well: 11.97 per 60, good for 83rd percentile. Now, some of this is likely due to the Kings being a strong shot and chance generating team in general, but Athanasiou fit into that system perfectly with his style of play.

As a result, Athanasiou’s 1.55 goals per 60 rate from last season had him in the 91st percentile of the league. To put that into perspective, Alex DeBrincat had a 1.44 goals per 60 rate. The caveat here is that Athanasiou’s sample size is much smaller: DeBrincat played in 50 more games and averaged about five more minutes per game than Athanasiou, but it shows that Athanasiou’s shooting habits can result in strong goal production given the right conditions — especially if he’s allowed any open ice.

As is typical of a shoot-first player, Athanasiou wasn’t as strong at assisting on shots or goals. His setup rate (2.11), chance assist per 60 rate (2.32)and high danger chance assist rate (0.72) were all below average. He was good at passing into the center lane – 1.01 per 60 – but that was almost always off the rush, where his assist rate was in the 66th percentile. Even with those lower numbers, Athanasiou’s 0.84 assist rates would have been top-nine on the Blackhawks last season.

Interestingly for a player with his skating ability, Athanasiou is a mixed bag when it comes to entering the zone. He doesn’t attempt to enter the zone a lot — his 15.44 zone entries per 60 rate in just the 36th percentile — but when he does, he’s very successful: he has a 67.5 percent possession rate (85th percentile), his rate of 5.02 entries leading to scoring chances per 60 (94th percentile) is strong, and his individual shot numbers off a rush have already been mentioned above. It’s probable that Athanasiou was not the primary player on his line designated for zone entries in Los Angeles, but he’ll definitely be given more opportunity with the Blackhawks considering their lack of transition prowess among their forward group.

Zone exits were the opposite for Athanasiou: he was very good with the Kings at getting the puck out of the defensive zone. He was in the was in the 76th percentile for zone exit attempts (8.29 per 60) and in the 59th percentile in successful exits (60 percent exits with possession). Although his carry exit number may seem low – just in the 26th percentile – that’s to be expected since most teams do not have forwards carry the puck out of the defensive zone. Athanasiou’s zone-exit rate via pass was above average: in the 61st percentile. Considering that exiting the zone was a skillset the Blackhawks lacked to an absurd degree last season, hopefully Athanasiou’s ability at exiting the zone will translate with his new team.

The main area in which Athanasiou lacks is on the defensive side of the game. There are far fewer tracked defensive stats, but he’s never been good at contributing to shot suppression. Most of his rates against — 56.42 shot attempts against per 60, 28.71 shots against, and 29.22 scoring chances against per 60 — were in the bottom-five on the Kings last season. To put them into perspective, those numbers are pretty well in line with Patrick Kane’s defensive numbers, which is probably appropriate considering they’re both offense-only players (although Kane is obviously a significantly higher producer on offense). Athanasiou’s even strength defense goals above replacement (minus-0.8) was in the 20th percentile this past season and 10th percentile (minus-1.2) over the last three seasons.

Ultimately, Athanasiou has been a solid middle-six player who focuses on generating offense because of his strong skating and shooting abilities — but he is a weaker performer when it comes to the defensive side of the ice. He probably won’t be setting the league on fire with his production while on the Blackhawks, and he’s not necessarily going to help with the defensive woes Chicago has. But that’s okay: he’s a placeholder for a portion of the season who will hopefully be flipped for future assets next spring — as long as Athanasiou can stay healthy.