In the case of Detroit Red Wings prospect Anthony Mantha, it is amazing the difference a year makes.
At the conclusion of last season, Red Wings senior vice-president and alternate governor Jim Devellano said Mantha was “very, very disappointing.”
The criticism was harsh to say the least since Mantha was playing in his first professional season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League and missed significant time to begin the year because of a fractured tibia. With all those elements combined, it equaled a bleak year for Mantha. In 62 games, he registered only 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists).
“I knew it wasn’t the best season, but it’s just comments I try to ignore a little bit,” Mantha said Sunday afternoon following a 4-0 win against the Chicago Wolves. “I started two months late on everyone, and it was my first year pro. It was a huge step for me to [reach] early on. Starting two months behind everyone unfortunately didn’t help me.”
It may have taken longer than expected, but Mantha is developing into the player Devellano and the Red Wings imagined when they selected him in the first round (20th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
The 6-foot-4, 214-pound left-winger has 45 points (21 g, 24 a) in 56 games with the Griffins.
Mantha credits this season’s success to confidence.
“This year, I’ve played better in every aspect of my game. I’m skating more, I’m more intense in my battles, and it’s just [the] little details that builds more confidence.”
Grand Rapids head coach Todd Nelson has seen the progression of Mantha first-hand.
“There are some things he’s had to work on in his game, but I like where he’s at right now,” said Nelson. “He’s improved steadily over the course of this season. I think right now he’s playing the best hockey of his career. He’s scoring goals, but it’s what he’s doing in the corners and battling. He’s being more consistent winning loose puck battles. That’s a big reason he’s being able to score more goals.
“Over the past couple of months, there has been nights where he doesn’t belong in this league.”
A challenge Mantha faces in the coming months is winning over Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, who coached Mantha last season when he was “disappointing.” Mantha made steps in doing so by having a three-point night (a goal and two assists) in a 7-2 win versus the Manitoba Moose Friday while Blashill and other Red Wings management staff were in attendance.
“I think Blash was happy to see that,” Nelson said. “In fairness to Blash, he’s going from the body of work that he saw last year, and Anthony had a tough year last year where he broke his leg and was his rookie season and finding himself in the league. Now this year, he has taken that next step. We’re seeing the player that was drafted in the first round. I know the Wings were happy with what they saw. Anthony served himself well by playing a nice game.”
It is typical of the Red Wings to allow their prospects time to marinate in the AHL before calling them up to the NHL. With this season, Mantha should be a shoe-in to make Detroit’s roster out of training camp come October.
“After two years of learning here, I know what they’re expecting,” Mantha said. “I’ll be more confident this year, and I’ll be bringing my A-game.”
Mantha is a large, top-six forward that is strong on the puck and can provide an effective net-front presence. Players like this do not grow on trees, and the Red Wings are fortunate to have Mantha for the future.
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Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.