Of all the current or former Jets’ prospects, Akim Aliu just may be the most famous (infamous?). As a 16-year old, Aliu had a much publicized on-ice altercation with teammate Steve Downie, stemming from Aliu’s refusal to participate in rookie hazing. Sticks were swung, teeth were lost, both parties were suspended and Aliu was eventually traded to the London Knights, before being traded back to Sudbury.
The Nigerian-born Aliu, who spent some formative years in Ukraine and speaks fluent Russian (would have likely been best-friends with Bryzgalov), has bounced around the AHL and ECHL since turning pro in 2009-10, with less than stellar results. Perhaps more well known for some on (tussles in training camp) and off-ice altercations (bar fights, etc.), Aliu was included in the Chicago Blackhawks-Atlanta Thrashers blockbuster deal.
Hockey-wise, Aliu is your prototype power forward. Standing 6’3 and tipping the scales at 225, Aliu possesses a lethal wrist shot (accurate with a quick release) and doesn’t mind mixing it up. His mix up of talent, size and grit suggest that he should be a top-6 forward, but until he erases the perceptions around him (un-disciplined, etc.) it is unlikely he will become a go-to option on any team.
The downsides to his game are so-so puck handling skills and poor on-ice awareness. Additionally, Aliu is a good straight-ahead skater, but some question his agility. Question marks aside, Aliu’s potential is such that one hopes the fresh start with the Jets will be the tonic Aliu needs to overcome the question marks surrounding him. If he can concentrate on hockey, Aliu could be a devastating force on the Jets right-side. If not, I would imagine the Jets waste little time in sending Aliu away, as this type of player does not seem to mesh with the Jets’ long term plans. Aliu is signed to a two-way deal through the end of this season, so the time for a decision will come quickly.
I would envision him as most likely filling a 2nd (playing soft minutes against weak opposition) or 3rd line role (if he can learn defensive awareness) but I can’t see why he wouldn’t be able to ride shotgun on the 1st line or play a 4th line energy role. He has the potential to a crowd favourite at the MTS given his penchant for big hits, etc., but the downside to this player is also quite extreme in that he could become a very unwelcome distraction/disturbance in the dressing room.
It is my hope that the fresh start and fresh surroundings offer Aliu the chance to tell his own story. I would be remiss if I were to forever paint a kid in a negative light just because he resisted being hazed. Granted, things went downhill pretty quickly after the incident and Aliu hasn’t helped his cause since then, but he is still a very young player with good years ahead of him.