LA Kings: Why Andreas Athanasiou makes bottom-six battle exciting

LA Kings (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
LA Kings (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The LA Kings added Andreas Athanasiou on a one-year deal on Monday. He figures to push someone off the NHL roster.

Coinciding with the 2020 NHL Draft, LA Kings general manager Rob Blake indicated the organization was potentially looking at another forward to challenge players like Carl Grundstrom, Trevor Moore, and Matt Luff, among others — essentially bottom-six forwards.

Weeks went by without the organization making a move, but now that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed upon a 56-game schedule for the 2021 season, the free-agent market has picked back up.

On Monday, the LA Kings signed Andreas Athanasiou to a one-year, one-way $1.2M contract. The former Red Wings’ 2012 fourth-round pick is two years removed from a 54-point season, broken down into 30 goals and 24 assists.

As previously noted, Athanasiou is a big, speedy forward who can help the LA Kings climb out of the basement from their scoring woes. But don’t expect much in the way of any defensive efforts, as the 26-year-old finished in the fourth-percentile in even-strength defensive metrics during the 19-20 season split between Detroit and Edmonton.

While the LA Kings will officially begin training camp on Thursday, Athanasiou will not be there for its start due to the mandatory eight-day quarantine period after arrival in Los Angeles. So he’ll be at a slight disadvantage when he’s finally able to skate with the team. However, his one-way contract guarantees a spot on the roster in the 2021 season.

The top two forward lines are nearly set heading into training camp. LA Kings head coach Todd McLellan recently joined the guys on Kings of the Podcast, indicating the organization likes the combination of Adrian Kempe, Gabe Vilardi, and Martin Frk for the second line.

The bottom-six forwards will be the most intriguing battle to monitor throughout training camp simply because there could be a number of combinations that could emerge for the Opening Night roster. Aside from the players mentioned above, guys like Lias Andersson, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and Michael Amadio will all be battling for three roster spots.

Sure, the upcoming campaign will be a year of prospect evaluation, but the LA Kings would like to finish better than the second-fewest goals scored in the NHL. Athanasiou brings that element with his blazing speed and ability to find the back of the net. The organization has a ton of salary cap space, and they didn’t invest much financially in Athanasiou.

According to CapFriendly, he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2021 season, so Los Angeles could retain him if he looks to be a piece for the future.

Bonus Content: Interview with Matt Luff

Q: After scoring 11 points in 33 games during the 18-19 season, some could consider your 5 points in 18 games in 19-20 to be somewhat of a letdown. Can you talk about any challenges you experienced in your second stint at the NHL level?

A: Yes, I think it wasn’t the year I was hoping to have after the 18-19 season. While it wasn’t at the pace I am capable of, it was more around my consistency. Going through dry spells of not producing really affects your confidence, and you start to overthink scenarios instead of playing your game.

Q: Obviously, the season ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What were some of the positives you were able to take away from the bulk of your time with Ontario, where you scored 24 points in 30 games? 

A: I think it was just getting my game back offensively and defensively. I give a lot of credit to Stutts (Mike Stothers) and the rest of the coaching staff for how well I played, as they would make sure no matter if it was video or just someone to talk to, I knew they were available, and I used them to my advantage. It also showed me the difference in my game when I am confident.

Q: Regarding the LA Kings development staff, what has been your overall experience with them, and how have they helped shape your game in the last few years?

A: I don’t know if I could put into words what the development team means to me. They took a chance on me as an undrafted player and gave me every opportunity to grow into an NHL player. They do such a fantastic job with everyone, and they make sure when anyone gets that called up, they can slide into the Kings lineup.