Aliu swings north with Knights

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

They've won six of seven games.

They're back in first place.

There's chemistry brewing and the young guys are confident.

Now the London Knights will reintroduce veteran forward Akim Aliu to the lineup about as far away from the John Labatt Centre as it gets -- in Sudbury tonight and Sault Ste. Marie tomorrow.

His inclusion could be the final puzzle piece for an OHL contender or the move that raises more roster questions.

"I'm excited to be back after missing the first 12 games," said Aliu, 19. "I feel good now. I watched the team play and the guys moved the puck around pretty well out there."

Aliu gives the Knights the dimensions they lack most -- size up front and finish around the net. But he hasn't made his season debut yet for a number of well-documented reasons -- early departure from training camp, a stint at Chicago Blackhawks camp, a groin injury and strep throat.

"In Akim, we see a big, powerful guy who has one of the hardest shots in the league," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "We held off putting him in until now because we wanted to be absolutely sure he was ready and let him skate hard for a couple of days.

"We're bringing two extra guys on the trip and we don't know who's going to sit out."

Aliu will get every opportunity to succeed. He skated on a line with leading scorer Nazem Kadri in practice and will patrol the blue-line on the top power-play unit alongside workhorse John Carlson.

"That's going to give us two big shots back there the other team has to worry about," Curcio said.

Aliu has been a lightning rod for controversy in his OHL career. His first game this year is against his old team in Sudbury, where he sparked a fight against the Wolves that led to a suspension last season.

"I had a good time playing there for almost two years and it's always nice to see old teammates, friends and my old coach (Mike Foligno)," Aliu said.

Finally able to see the club he assembled in the summer, London GM Mark Hunter hopped on the bus and will serve again as assistant coach to brother Dale this weekend.

"I want to see what this team can do in a different environment and not just when everything's all nicey-nicey at home," Mark Hunter said. "That's one reason I'm going -- it's a long road trip and I want to see how these guys react to it. The other is to help out on the bench and give us three on the bench instead of two. I've got scouting commitments in the next few weeks, so this is my only chance for a while to see how this group does together."

With Aliu back, the Knights must find out if they can compete with Western Conference-leading Windsor or if they need additional help.

The way the NHL is currently gobbling up talented young players, there's no guarantee Kadri and Carlson -- necessary pieces for a title run -- will be back in London next year.

"The defence is better and I don't know if we need more scoring," Hunter said. "In playing a few top goalies lately and getting a lot of chances, I think they're learning they need better shots on goal. It's not enough just to get a lot of shots."


Videos

Photos