LA Kings forward Andreas Athanasiou talks about returning to the lineup and playing with Phillip Danault.

Signed days before LA Kings‘ training camp of the shortened 2021 schedule, Andreas Athanasiou was looking for a new home after being traded from Detroit to Edmonton during the 2019-20 season. The Oilers ultimately decided not to extend a qualifying offer to the London, Ontario native, giving him the power to sign with any team.

In his first season in Los Angeles, Athanasiou tallied 10 goals with 13 assists while primarily playing with Jeff Carter. He missed a couple of weeks in the league’s COVID protocol, but overall, it was a positive year for the former 30-goal scorer.

Heading into the offseason, the 27-year-old was a restricted free agent, and he agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.7M to return to the Kings. However, he was dealing with an undisclosed injury and missed all of the preseason and the start of the regular season.

He made his season debut on November 5 against the New Jersey Devils.

With four games now under his belt, the speedy forward has gotten off to a fast start (no pun intended), tallying two goals and three assists over that span. While he’s made it look easy, Athanasiou said it has been anything but simple jumping back into the lineup.

“Yeah, I would say it’s definitely getting there,” he said of where his game is at right now. “Obviously, having no camp and no exhibition games is kind of tough, and I’ve noticed that the first couple of games, it kind of feels like chaos out there, seeing so many people on the ice. But every game, every shift, it kind of gets better, and the linemates I’m playing with are making it pretty easy to kind of get in the flow of things and just go from there.”

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Most recently, Athanasiou had a critical goal in Thursday’s win over the Ottawa Senators, deflecting Alex Edler’s shot from the point and into the back of the net with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.

The Kings have struggled to close out games over the last couple of seasons, lacking veteran leadership up and down the lineup. With only four players left from their two Stanley Cup runs – and Drew Doughty currently out with an injury – Athanasiou can be considered one of those secondary core players, despite him set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

Still, putting a bow on Thursday’s game with the Kings clinging to a 1-0 lead was a huge sigh of relief.

“Anytime you can get an insurance marker there, it’s definitely huge, it takes off a little pressure – it’s a little breath of fresh air,” Athanasiou said. “We always talk about great defense playing in the O-zone, so it’s anytime we can add to a lead is huge for us.

“I kind of just opened up in the top of the circle there, and I saw [Edler] was getting ready to shoot, and I wasn’t sure if he saw me, but I was just kind of getting ready to tip it out of the air, and you know, he made an unbelievable look to just fire along the ice right by my stick,” he explained. “So I just put my stick on the ice, and he pretty much hit it and found the net.”

With Viktor Arvidsson and Gabe Vilardi in COVID protocol, the Kings lineup has been shuffled around as Adrian Kempe has replaced Arvidsson on the top line for the time being.

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Upon returning, Athanasiou was slotted into the second line, playing alongside Alex Iafallo and Phillip Danault. And while his experience playing with the latter is limited, the former Montreal Canadien has already made an impact on Athanasiou.

“Oh, he’s solid, he’s a great player to play with,” he said of his early impressions of Danault. “I think throughout our whole lineup, we have so many good players that can plug in on any line, and they can come in and do so well. Phil [Danault] is a real unbelievable player. He’s awesome in the dot, such a huge thing winning faceoffs and start off with the puck, it’s definitely a big thing. He’s so sound defensively. He’s got great skill to complement that too on the offensive side, so he’s a lot of fun to play with.”

With Arvidsson likely to return to the lineup in the near future, it will be interesting to see if Athanasiou sticks on the second line. The trio of Iafallo, Danault, and Athanasiou have accounted for a 70.2 percent expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) per Money Puck.

It’s a limited sample size of just under 44 minutes on-ice, but there’s no denying how much that line has contributed to the team’s current seven-game win streak.

And whether he’s part of the long-term future in Los Angeles, Andreas Athanasiou can still have an impactful role on the younger players this season while helping the Kings make a playoff push.

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