By Melissa Hashemian
A couple of years ago, you would never hear about Nik Antropov scoring big goals for the Leafs. In all honesty, the only time his name was ever brought up was when analysts listed the Leafs' injured players.
He always seemed to sustain some kind of minor abrasion throughout the season, and from what I remember, he was the 6'6" player who failed to create many constructive plays and fell down every time someone touched him.
Things have changed significantly since then however, as Leaf Nation is finally getting to witness the real talent of the 230-pound forward.
Antropov was drafted 10th overall (first round choice) by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. He was 18 at the time, and in many eyes was thought to become one of the future stars of the organization.
As years go by, his stats continue to amaze us.
Antropov registered 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in the '05-'06 season, 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in '06-'07, and 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in '07-'08.
With the rate he's at, Antropov should finish the '08-'09 season with a tremendous scoring percentage and perhaps even twice as many points as last year. He's improved considerably over the past few seasons and has introduced a new kind of life to the game of hockey.
With half of the season gone, he's already posted 13 goals and 16 assists for a total of 29 points. He leads the team in goals, game-winning goals, and is tied for the team-lead in points (29) with Matt Stajan.
He's also had a five-game point streak from October 18-28 this season, where he registered four goals and two assists for six points. Pretty good for a player on a team that's all about reconstruction and development lately.
He's a passer, a shooter, and now an avid goal scorer. It's pretty clear that there are still a few veterans left that can be relied on to make a difference on this young team. Antropov is a leader, the Maverick, so don't be surprised if he acquires the "C" status either.
Swedish captain? How about one from Kazakhstan instead?
His efforts have illustrated the beginning of a new and improved era in Toronto and I foresee a good kind of change in the future.
The only question left to ask is: Does Brian Burke see him in his Maple Leafs canvas?
That itself is an entirely different story, yet I can say right now that removing Antropov from the roster will be a definite mistake.
Fans can only wait and see what Burke's next move will be. Will he be eyeing the pawn or go straight for the king? Whatever he does, we may hear checkmate very soon.