Prospect Akim Aliu has a reputation that has followed him from Junior hockey to the NHL.
When he was originally drafted by the Blackhawks he was regarded as a high potential NHL prospect. Since then he has been involved in several high profile incidents that left the Chicago management unsure about his future with the club.
Aliu is looking forward to a fresh start in Atlanta.
“It’s who I am,” Aliu told a reporter at this week's prospect development camp in Duluth, Georgia. “I’m a pretty outspoken and I speak my mind. A lot of people respect that and some people don’t. There are definitely lessons to be learned in the bits of trouble that I have gotten into over my career. It definitely set me back."It is kind of hard to look back on. Maybe I could have farther in my progression now if not because of those incidents, but not much I can do now. I can’t dwell on it. I just have to move forward and try to make this hockey club.”
While a junior player in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Aliu (pronounced ah-lee-OO) declined to take part in a hazing ritual, objecting to cram into a bus bathroom with other players while naked.
In another incident, he was cross-checked in the mouth by a teammate during a practice. He returned to the ice and fought that teammate creating friction in the locker room.
Such initiations are commonplace in the NHL and rookies rarely protest the process no matter what they are asked to do. Even highly touted stars like Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Bobby Orr were hazed in their first season.
Aliu unafraid of physical play collected 407 penalty minutes in four OHL seasons. He played for Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford last season, appearing in 48 games, and was sent to the ECHL Toledo team in March. He was suspended for one playoff game after a fight.
Coming to Atlanta represents a new beginning for the 21-year-old Aliu. He has been reunited with Atlanta general manager Rick Dudley, who was part of the group that drafted him in Chicago. When asked about Aliu’s potential Dudley said “He’s 225 pounds, skates like the wind and can shoot the puck.” Dudley added, “He has great hands, has a nasty side to him. He s all the attributes of a power forward. He just has to put it all together. We like to think his chances are pretty good."
“Akim’s been his own worst enemy. I think he will admit that but I know the kid very well. I like him a lot. He has some things to work with and deal with. He’s a good guy. He’s just got to figure it out that there will be a role assigned to him and he’s got to do that role ,” said Dudley.
Aliu was born inNigeria and raised in the Ukraine. The family moved to Canada before Aliu was a teenager. Like many Canadian youngsters, Aliu started playing hockey and showed promise early on.
Aliu said he did not make much progress last season due to limited playing time. He will work out with other NHL players back home in Toronto this summer prior to training camp. “He will be invited to training camp and given an opportunity to compete for a roster spot” said Dudley.
“When you get an opportunity, it’s what you do with it,” Aliu said. “You can’t blame anyone else. If you got an opportunity and didn’t succeed, that’s your own fault. I hope that I get an opportunity here. Hopefully, I take off from there.”