Nearly a year ago, Red Wings Senior Vice President and Alternate Governor Jim Devellano had some choice words for Anthony Mantha’s first season in Grand Rapids after a 57-goal, 120-point campaign in the QMJHL. (57 games)
“Very, very, very disappointing. I say that with a lot of sadness. Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him.”
– Jim Devellano, Red Wings Senior VP and Alt. Governor
The 20th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft expected a lot from himself, trying to make the Wings out of camp in his first season. That didn’t happen with the overflow of Wings forwards (they still had Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel Cleary, Stephen Weiss, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, etc.), but was not out of the question in 2014’s edition of Traverse City Training Camp, where Kris Draper (Special assistant to GM Ken Holland) said there was belief that what he did in junior could give him the opportunity to crack the Wings’ top six.
This all derailed when the then-20-year old cracked his tibia and missed 6-8 weeks, stagnating his development and making the adjustment to the pro game that much more difficult. This was evident throughout his freshman season, potting just 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games, including just two goals in 16 playoff games for the 6’5″, 204-pound winger. This was a far-cry from the numbers he put up in juniors, but the AHL is an entirely different animal playing against men versus playing against mainly teenagers for Val-D’or.
“Anytime you move up levels, same as the American League to the NHL, you probably got away with things at the previous level. You have to find a way to play the right way, especially in our system, where we demand you play a 200-foot game from the defensive side of the puck. It takes a while to learn to create offense while playing that way.”
-Jeff Blashill, Red Wings Head Coach
When the criticism initially occurred, this writer believed that it was mainly a tactic to fuel Mantha’s fire for 2015-16.
Whatever the intention, the criticism, injury, and performance all combined to have a positive influence on Mantha’s drive. He admitted that this past training camp made him feel a lot more comfortable adjusting to the pro game.
“For sure I learned a lot. It was a learning process throughout the year. I talked a lot with Blash (coach Jeff Blashill), watched a lot of video, so this year it’s like a fresh start and I know what I need to do.”
Overall, his campaign along with many Griffins have been streaky. Grand Rapids has had two double-digit win streaks (2nd team in 25 years to do so) to go along with a couple down periods, including a 1-7 start to the season. Now, Mantha has emerged as a key contributor for the first-place Griffins with former and possibly future linemate Andreas Athanasiou in Detroit. His 21 goals and 45 points place him 22nd in overall league scoring and third on the team to Andy Miele and Eric Tangradi. With just over one month to go not even including playoffs, Mantha was well on his way to a very promising sophomore campaign…Until…
— The Wheel Deal (@Bill_Roose) March 14, 2016
When your team gets shut-out by literally the worst team in the League, one could say that the goal scoring department needs work sitting 23rd in overall goals scored (2.48/game) at a -9 differential. Why not pull from within?
#RedWings said they have no new injuries and Mantha will play tomorrow.
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) March 14, 2016
(I’m glad we got that disclaimer out of the way)
For Mantha, it is a testament to him training hard in the summertime and making the most of his time in Grand Rapids learning the ways of the pro game and excelling. He has earned whatever credibility was lost in management at this time last year back, evidenced by Ken Holland’s comments on the call-up.
“Mantha is playing. He has played very well in Grand Rapids.”
-Ken Holland, Red Wings General Manager
The big opportunity is here for the 21-year old. Mantha wanted this from the moment his name was called by the same man that just gave him praise for his body of work in the American League. Where he will slot is to be determined, but if the Wings are serious about him making an impact, he belongs in the top six. Those reigns have been earned by 21-year old Athanasiou and 19-year old Dylan Larkin already, but as we have seen with Jeff Blashill, the opportunities can be short with line juggling if things aren’t clicking.
The fact that these three among others are already making an impact signifies the youth movement that is accelerating in Hockeytown.
Next up, it’s 21-year old Anthony Mantha.
Quotes courtesy of FoxSportsDetroit.com and The Detroit News
Stats courtesy of Hockey DB, NHL.com and GriffinsHockey.com
Tweets courtesy of Ansar Khan and Bill Roose