One to follow: African prospect intriguing story

Sudbury center-right winger Akim Aliu was a very late skate

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Akim Aliu isn't the most-gifted prospect available in the NHL entry draft that starts Friday and continues Saturday.

Or the fastest. Or -- even though he checks in at a chiseled 6 feet 2, 200 pounds -- the largest.

But he likely is the most intriguing.

In large part because Aliu, a center-right winger who plays for Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League, is a native of Nigeria who did not skate until he was about 10 years old and is fluent in English, Russian and Ukranian.

Aren't many guys in the Class of 2007 who can claim that.

"It's an amazing background for a player," Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said. "You just don't see it."

Aliu was transplanted from Nigeria to his mother's hometown in Russia when he was 9 months old, then moved to Toronto around age 10. That put him a good half-decade behind peers who began skating at 3 or 4, although Aliu said that that isn't quite the negative it might seem.

"All the kids over here have probably played double the time I have," he said. "But I've been able to gain ground and, in a couple of more years, I'll be that much better."

He is good enough now to be Central Scouting's 38th-rated prospect among North American forwards and defensemen and looks like a candidate to be taken somewhere in the middle of the draft.

"He's a prospect because he's got size and can really skate," said Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting. "He's got some skill. His production [last season] wasn't what we may have thought it would be, but maybe that's just untapped."

Aliu, who had 22 goals and 20 assists in 53 games with the Wolves last season, tries to pattern his game after that of Columbus winger Rick Nash, his frequent workout partner at a gym in suburban Toronto.

"He just kind of took me under his wing and has helped me out so much," Aliu said.

Aliu improved slightly from Central Scouting's midseason rankings to its final ones, going from 41st to 38th. Of course, it possible that a particular team has him rated much higher, so it is impossible to predict precisely when -- or where -- he might be selected.

"I'm just going to go into the draft hoping for the best," he said. "I don't think those rankings matter too much.

"If a team likes you, a team likes you."


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