Leafs media and fans always seem to find (at least) one whipping boy to single out and lay blame for the Leafs not winning the Stanley Cup. More often than not it is a defenseman (Todd Gill, Larry Murphy, Aki Berg to name a few) but the forwards sometimes get singled out as well. A favourite whipping boy of the past few years has been Nik Antropov. Nik Antropov was a surprise pick with the Leafs first round (10th overall) pick in the 1998 entry draft. Many people had hardly heard of the big kid from Kazakhstan let lone thought he’d be a first round pick. He has now played 6 injury riddled seasons in the NHL so lets take a look and see if he is a well deserved whipping boy or not.
Antropov broke into the Leafs lineup in 1999-2000 scoring 12 goals and 30 points in 66 games which was a more than respectable rookie campaign for a young player new to the NHL and new to North America. In 2000-01 his production dropped off a bit playin 52 games and 6 goals and 17 points before a season ending knee injury. The following year was an almost complete washout as he played just 11 games and getting 1 goal and 2 points. In 2002-03 he had his best year playin 72 games scoring 16 goals and 45 points. In 2003-04 he played 62 games scorign 13 goals and 31 points and last year he had almost identical numbers, 12 goals and 31 points, in 57 games.
Clearly from his production so far he hasn’t really lived up to the expectations one might have from a 10th overall pick but has his he been a complete flop? No. In fact despite a lot of serious injuries, including 3 knee operations, he has been a more than respectable player. Antropov gets criticised for being slow and poor defensively and although he isn’t swift afoot he certainly isn’t a poor defensive player. In 2005-06 he was a more than competent penalty killer and finished the year second on the team in +/- at +13. In 2003-04 he finished the year +7 and was tied for 3rd on the team in +/- in the playoffs. In 2002-03 he was a +11 which was good for third on the team. Over his career he is a +49 in 320 games and the only year he wasn’t a ‘plus’ player was when he played just 11 games and was a -1.
A comparable player to Antropov might be fellow 1998 first round draft pick Mark Bell. Bell was drafted 2 spots ahead of Antropov by the Chicago Blackhawks and like Antropov has good size and can play a solid defensive game. Bell’s NHL numbers so far are 151 points in 339 games. Antropov: 156 points in 320 games. Bell is a bit more of a goal scorer but Antropov is more versatile being able to play center or either wing.
There are rumours going around that the Leafs are looking to trade Antropov. As a Leaf fan I would be quite dissapointed to see this happen as I feel a solid defensive player who can kill penalties and who can score you 30-40 points and makes just $1 million is a bargain in this new salary cap era and a line of Peca, Antropov and Ponikarovsky could be the best checking line in the NHL.