Реклама в Интернет * Все Кулички
|17 сентября 2007
Antropov still feels he doesn't belong //National Post
Newly Minted Canadian; Inconsistent forward plays well on Leafs' top
OSHAWA - Nik Antropov became a Canadian citizen in May. A month later, he accepted a two-year extension worth US$4-million to remain a Maple Leaf.
But the 27-year-old Kazakh, who may be the most loathed sports figure living in Toronto, still feels like he does not belong.
"The way I enter [training camp] is that I'm not 100% in the lineup," Antropov said after he recorded three points in an intra-squad game at General Motors Centre yesterday. "I have to prove something different every year."
What Antropov proved yesterday was that he might belong on the Leafs' top scoring line. The right-winger, who skated alongside centre Mats Sundin and offseason acquisition Jason Blake, scored twice and added an assist as Team Blue defeated Team White 5-1.
Moments after the meaningless victory, a smart-aleck reporter asked the former first-round draft pick if he thought he played well enough to earn a spot on the team.
"Next question," Antropov laughed. "All I'm worried about is [when the regular season opens on] Oct. 3. That's when I'm going to have to show up."
For a player who has missed 53 regular-season games in the last two years, showing up and staying healthy may be all that is required. Drafted 10th overall by Toronto in 1998, the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder has never grown into the prototypical power forward that many envisioned he would become.
Instead, injuries have slowed Antropov's development to the point where fans almost seem to prefer if he were not playing. Perhaps that is why it is not uncommon to hear the Air Canada Centre crowd cheer when he is absent from the roster.
"I'll be honest with you, that's always kind of surprised me," said head coach Paul Maurice. "There was almost an anti-Antropov marketing campaign. I'm not sure who started it, but this guy's a really good player. You talk to any of the players in the locker room, they feel that way."
Blake, who had a goal and assist yesterday, agreed that his new linemate is tough to keep off the scoresheet.
"Every time that we've played against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it's those two guys that we kind of looked at," Blake said of Sundin and Antropov. "Nik is so good down low. He stands in front of the net and creates room for his linemates."
Antropov re-directed a Tomas Kaberle slap shot past Team White goaltender Scott Clemmensen at 14:47 in the second period. He then one-timed a Blake pass from just outside the top of the crease at 8:25 in the third.
"I always believe that Nik has the tools to be a great player in this league. There's no doubt about that," said Sundin, who has played beside Antropov for the past two seasons.
"In a market like Toronto, it's not easy. You're expected to -- as that high of a draft pick -- to deliver right away."
When he was healthy last year, Antropov gave indications as to why he was selected ahead of Simon Gagne (22nd overall), Scott Gomez (27th), Jonathan Cheechoo (29th) and Brad Richards (64th) in the 1998 draft.
Big and strong with pillow-soft hands and an accurate shot, Antropov scored a career-high 18 goals in 2006-07. Of course, he benefited from playing with Sundin, which is one of the reasons he chose not to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"If I went to a different team, I wouldn't have the same confidence," said Antropov. "The big reason I stayed here is to play with great players like Mats and now Jason Blake.
"It's a great city to keep up with the hockey world. You're always in the spotlight. Sometimes it's too much pressure to play, but I can handle it. I think I get used to it over the years."