Calgary Flames Prospect Series: Akim Aliu
Courtesy of the Calgary Flames
By Ryan Holmer (@RyanHolmerNHL)
Akim Aliu has taken an unusual and difficult path in his hockey career. He has faced difficulties, and several times he almost counted himself out of the game. But through hard work and determination, Aliu was called up to the Calgary Flames last season, and made an immediate impact.
Akim Aliu was born in Okene, Nigeria in 1989, but lived in Ukraine for most of his young childhood. He lived in Ukraine until the age of seven before moving to Canada with his family.
His first pair of skates was bought at a garage sale at the age of nine. He began his playing career in Toronto, playing for a house-league team in Parkdale. For the first couple of years, the language barrier was an issue. He eventually became fluent at English. He had a natural talent for hockey. A few years later, he was drafted by the Windsor Spitfires in the 1st round of the OHL Draft.
During the 2005-’06 season, Aliu was involved in a dust-up with Steve Downie. Downie cross-checked Aliu from behind, knocking out several teeth. After receiving treatment, Aliu returned to fight Downie during practice. The fight stemmed from Aliu’s unwillingness to participate in rookie hazing rituals on the team. Downie was suspended five games, Aliu, one, and their coach was suspended forty games and banned for a year of coaching.
After the incident, Aliu asked to be traded. Aliu was traded to the Sudbury Wolves. Aliu tallied 10 goals and 10 assists in the 47 games he played that year. Throughout the rest of his career in the OHL, Aliu remained nagged by controversy, as he was suspended several other times for incidents.
During the 2006-’07 season, Aliu was considered to be the fifth-best prospect available for the 2007 NHL entry draft. Despite being initially ranked as a top prospect, his reputation for being difficult and inconsistent led to him falling to the second round, where the Chicago Blackhawks selected him 56th overall.
He continued to play in Juniors, and produced 61 points in 60 games for the London Knights. He was eventually given a short sting for the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate before being returned to the Juniors. Midway through the season, he was traded back to the Sudbury Wolves. Following his last season in Junior, Aliu had several stints in the AHL, and had a short time playing in the ECHL.
Before arriving at his current destination in Calgary, Aliu was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers. Aliu then played for the Abbotsford Heat on loan, an arrangement struck by Calgary GM Jay Feaster. He played well enough that the Flames eventually traded for him, calling him up to the NHL. He played two games in the NHL, putting up three points (two goals and one assist). He earned a standing ovation from the fans. Aliu had a long and winding journey to the NHL, and to get a chance was a dream come true for him.
In an interview after the final game of the season, Aliu was emotional and thanked Calgary for the great opportunity.
Next season, Aliu is likely destined for the AHL, however I can see him getting some fourth-line time. He is a big, aggressive forward who can obviously produce some points at the highest level. He also showed his ability to skate. His speed and strength on his skates was as good as anyone on the ice.
Aliu has good skating, great size, and decent offensive abilities. He has the makings to be a premier power forward, but does not yet have the consistency. He still needs to improve his tools, but he has shown that he can do so, as is evident by his development the past couple of seasons.
Aliu’s biggest weakness is his inconsistency, which has led people to believe he is lazy in the past. He has improved, but still needs to prove that he can score on a consistent basis. Aliu also has a bad reputation for being a hard player to manage. This is mainly because of his rough past in the OHL. He is not the same player, and is actually a treat to handle, according to the Flames coaching staff.
If you’re interested in hearing more of Aliu’s story, head over to http://flames.nhl.com, where there is an entire video series dedicated to “Aliu’s Journey.”