Nik glad Leafs love him

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Nik Antropov knows he should have been a much better player by now, a much better return on the first-round pick the Maple Leafs used more than eight years ago.

"It's not just injuries, it's not bad luck, it's ... I don't know," Antropov said yesterday. "I don't get the answers from myself as to what is going on. But I'm glad they still believe in me and give me the opportunity."

Antropov, 26, recently signed a one-year, $1-million US deal after deciding not to go to arbitration.

Since becoming an NHL regular in 1999-2000, the closest Antropov has come to playing 82 games was in 2002-03 when he appeared in 72 games.

Injuries and operations have been the norm, and when he has played, the results have not been great.

Though Antropov registered a respectable plus-13 with the Leafs last season, he endured various injuries again and had 12 goals and 19 assists in 57 games. And few would confuse the 6-foot-6, 230-pound native of Kazakhstan with the speedier players in the NHL.

Antropov's most prolific season was marked by 45 points in 2002-03, the same year he scored a career-best 16 goals.

Whether new Leafs coach Paul Maurice can extract more out of Antropov than Pat Quinn likely will be one of the biggest challenges facing Maurice this season.

"But Nik is not alone in that," Maurice said.

"As a group all the players have to do a little better. He won't be singled out in that way. When you're a first-round pick sometimes you are not allowed to be good -- you have to be great or you shouldn't be playing."

As much as everyone in the Leafs organization would like to stop wondering whether Antropov will one day live up to expectations, Antropov simply is anticipating getting guidance from someone other than Quinn.

It's not necessarily because Antropov disliked Quinn's methods -- after all, Quinn stuck with Antropov longer than others might have.

"I have been saying every single year before the season, yeah, I have to improve," Antropov said.

"The main concern is to stay healthy. It's why I am working out earlier than usual. I'm looking forward to playing under a new coach and hopefully it is a great season for me."


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