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|17 сентября 2007
Antropov gets his due // Toronto Star
Sometimes it takes eight years, a rash of injuries, and heaps of criticism and doubt, to finally feel comfortable wearing a maple leaf on your hockey jersey.
Nik Antropov, the perennial poster boy for underachievment in a Leafs uniform, is finally hearing high praise for the player and person he is.
"That's always kinda surprised me. There's almost been an anti-Nik Antropov marketing campaign, and I'm not sure who started it. This guy is a really good player," coach Paul Maurice said yesterday after the annual Blue and White game.
Team Blue walked over Team White 5-1 in a game that means nothing and is as much great community relations for the franchise as it is an opportunity to test players in their first game situation of training camp.
But there was Antropov, leading the scoring with two goals and looking like one of the best players on the ice.
"I've played on the Island (with the New York Islanders) for seven seasons and whenever we played the Maple Leafs, there were two players who were always (focused) on, and they were Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov," Blake said.
Those accolades were hard to even imagine for much of the time since Antropov was drafted in the first round, 10th overall, in 1998. Critics looked at the fact Antropov, due to knee injuries and surgery, missed 200 of the 574 NHL games he's been eligible for.
Although injuries again prevented Antropov from appearing in 28 games last season, he showed something that many had long been waiting for – the ability to be a dominant player in the league.
Something finally clicked. When teamed with Sundin and Alex Ponikarovsky, Antropov showed his skill and strength, especially around the slot and behind enemy nets.
He wound up with 18 goals and 33 points and this summer the Leafs extended his contract two more years at over $4 million (U.S).
The signing failed to generate big headlines, but the sense around the team was very positive. Antropov had been one of the Leafs' top scorers in the second half of the season. He wound up with career highs in power-play goals (four) and shots (125), and a plus-8 rating. Combined with the season before, that rating jumped to plus-21, second highest on the team.
Everthing finally felt comfortable, to the Leafs and to Antropov.
"If I had gone to a different team, I probably wouldn't have the same confidence I do now," said Antropov.
"The reason I stayed here is to play with great players like Mats Sundin and now Jason Blake. We met with John (Leafs GM John Ferguson) and they made an offer. We talked about it, and I talked about it with my wife. It didn't take long, two days maybe, and I stayed here."
Antropov is now one of the reasons Sundin is back with the Leafs. At 36, the Leafs captain certainly considered all options in the off season, even retirement, but felt good enough about the team and the chemistry his line with Antropov and Ponikarovsky showed down the stretch last spring.
"Nik is a big player who has good hands, he's got a lot of the things you want in a big player, and I think he showed that last year," Sundin said.
Ultimately, Antropov wants to remain healthy for an entire season and see what he can accomplish.
"Every training camp is different, but you always try the same thing, to work hard and help the team make the playoffs ... I guess the other stuff is someone else's opinion," Antropov said.