Former NHLer Nik Antropov hung up his skates so he could focus on being a full-time hockey dad to his son, Danil, who is playing with the playoff-bound Oshawa Generals.
OSHAWA, Ont. — While growing up attending Maple Leafs games, the highlight of the night for Danil Antropov was often the time he got to spend inside Toronto’s dressing room. It gave Danil a glimpse into the professional lifestyle – an experience he still calls on today in his rookie season in the OHL.
The 16-year-old son of Nik Antropov is wrapping up his first season with the Oshawa Generals where he had eight goals and 21 points in 60 games.
“It’s something I’ve been around, growing up with my dad being in the NHL and being around that atmosphere,” he said. “It’s helped show me what it’s like up to this point and showed me the way guys acted in the room after the game, what they did and, even though I was young, I was kind of seeing what they do, what happens. As I get older, that’s something I want to bring into my game – the way they acted off the ice.”
Danil feels his game also benefitted from the moves his dad’s hockey career forced the family to make. Though he didn’t move to New York when Nik was dealt from the Maple Leafs to the Rangers at the 2009 trade deadline, Danil did spend two years in Atlanta and time in Winnipeg. He also lived, and played, overseas while Nik played for Astana Barys in the KHL.
“You just see what the people are like down there,” Danil said of his time in Atlanta. “The hockey, what type of hockey there is down there – it’s different and it’s something that I kind of gathered in and brought into my game wherever I went.”
It was Danil’s budding hockey career which even eventually prompted his dad to retire.
During Nik’s second season with Astana Barys in 2014-15, Danil stayed behind and lived in Toronto on his own for eight months, while playing in the GTHL. That was when Nik decided it was time to pack up his hockey career and focus on being a dad.
“It was kind of like a family decision – I had to be a dad once in a while,” said Nik, who appeared in 788 NHL games with the Leafs, Rangers, Thrashers and Jets. “I’d been away for too long from the family. Danil was going to the OHL so I kind of took a back seat for him – guide him through the last year, through the GTHL, give him some tips and advice. It helped him a lot me being with him.”
Danil scored 36 goals and 72 points with the GTHL’s Toronto Marlboros last season and added 10 points in seven games at the 2016 OHL Cup. Oshawa used the sixth overall pick at the 2016 OHL Priority Selection to take the 6-foot, 185-pound forward.
An injury forced Danil to miss eight games this season, one he calls a learning year.
“It’s different. It’s way different hockey, it’s way faster, everything comes quicker and it takes time to get used to, but as a new player you’re here to get used to the league and do the best that you can,” he said. “It’s been getting better every month, I would say. That injury kind of set me back. I’m trying to find my way again. Hopefully it works out. We’ve got our last couple games of the season coming up here and then playoffs.”
Being a hockey dad has also been a learning experience for Nik. The 37-year-old, who grew up in Kazakhstan, was admittedly nervous about Danil being one of the youngest players in the OHL this season.
“When I grew up back in Kazakhstan, it was different: we were practicing more of our skills and stuff and we wouldn’t play as much games as (the GTHL) does at age 14 or 15. They play almost a 70-game season. It’s different.
“Playing games obviously that’s where you learn, but you have to develop basics – you can’t just go and play. You have to know basics. You have to know how to skate, stick handling, stuff like that. It’s different from overseas to what they do there.”
Danil has his father’s size, but is still earning his ice time this season. Eligible for the 2019 NHL draft, Danil knows his skating needs to be an area of improvement.
“The game is fast and I’m not the best skater so, ‘What can I do without the puck to get myself open, get into the scoring areas’,” he said. “I use the offensive zone as a tool for me. As long as you’re doing the little things right in the defensive zone, you’re doing what the coaches want, you can have a little more free-will in the offensive zone.”
Danil has spent this season living with billets in Oshawa while Nik and his wife, along with their 14-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, live in Toronto. The father and son talk after most games with Nik constantly feeding Danil advice on how to get better.
“I tell him to shoot the puck more. If you’re not shooting the puck, you’re not scoring goals,” Nik said. “He’s a little better than I was at that age. I see some similarities, but hopefully he’s going to be better than me – that’s the hope.”