If there’s one player that people will trot out to pledge allegiance to Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward and his work with reclamation projects, it’s probably Akim Aliu. While the stories regarding Ryan Howse’s weight gain (and loss) are fine and dandy, it’s with Aliu that Ward delivered some startling results and delivered a habitually under-achieving player to the NHL.
Well, sort of.
Before this season, Akim Aliu was a cautionary tale. Infamous for some clashes with teammates in junior over hazing, Aliu was drafted by Chicago in 2007 and bounced around the minor leagues for the past five seasons. He played for five different minor league clubs and had his rights traded before landing in Abbotsford on a loan from the Winnipeg Jets organization. Ward liked what he saw, dished out some tough love and ordered the youngster to completely change how he played and carried himself, including buying new suits and getting a haircut.
The results were some consistency from Aliu, a shortened 14-point season with the Abbotsford Heat and a two-game NHL call-up at the end of the year to try his luck at the big time. While Aliu was out-shot in his two-game recall, he delivered some offense while being thrown to the wolves – he started primarily in his own zone and usually against the opposition’s better players.
That said, it’s hard to figure out exactly what Akim Aliu brings to the table. He was great in Calgary, but I wouldn’t expect his offensive outburst to be representative of what he can do on a regular basis. His NHLE pro-rated for a full AHL season is only 12 points, so even with an occasional outburst (like against Anaheim in Game 82), he’s probably around 20 points a year. Hardly an offensive world-breaker.
Aliu was qualified for next season and will likely be retained by the Flames, with a deal probably worth close to $880,000 at the NHL level. Considering he’s likely a fourth-line energy guy at best, that ticket is a bit rich (Lance Bouma and Tim Jackman are both making around $650,000, for instance).
He’s a project who will spend at least half of the year in the AHL, though, so it’s not like re-signing him to see if he can continue to grow towards his potential is a particularly risky venture.