Critical time for Antropov

Big things have been expected from oft-injured Maple Leaf Nik Antropov, who must step up his game...

Big things have been expected from oft-injured Maple Leaf Nik Antropov, who must step up his game this season. (Toronto Sun/Michael Peake)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Too brittle. Too slow. Too lethargic.

Throughout his career, towering forward Nik Antropov has been showered with such criticism time and time again.

Well, if you among the legion of Nik bashers lining up to unleash your wrath on the big Kazakh, here's a tip.

He's not listening to you.

"I don't really care what the (critics) say,"Antropov said yesterday. "Whatever they want to say, go ahead. I don't hear it anyway."

For years now the most frustrating aspect about Antropov is that you keep expecting more. He can look brilliant one moment, lazy the next, all the while driving his coaches behind the bench and fans up in the stands bonkers.

Either way, the Maple Leafs will rely on him even more than in the past when they open up the 2005-06 season against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 5. With forwards Owen Nolan, Joe Nieuwendyk,Gary Roberts and Alex Mogilny no longer in the mix, Antropov will be looked upon to improve on his career high goal total of 16 established in 2002-03.

"My goal is to reach 20 goals and get as many points as I can,"he said. "Obviously my main goal is to play all 82 games."

INJURY-PLAGUED

That would be a first. The injury-plagued forward has never participated in more than 72 games in a season, in part because of a pair of reconstructive knee surgeries early in his career that took as much a mental toll as physical on him.

"It was tough,"he said."You have an operation your first year, then another one a year and a half later.

"It was difficult to deal with the emotions. When I returned, it was in my head that I wanted to hit everyone out there, but something stopped me. I wasn't scared, it was just something in the back of my head."

Fortunately Antropov has enough of a support network to get through those tough times.

"I'm glad I asked people to help me," he said."They helped me work things out and get that stuff (out of my head).

"I'm just glad to get going again."

So are the Leafs, especially if Antropov meets his target of a 20-goal season.


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