He seems to be figuring out just how dominant he can be on a more consistent basis and how crucial his play will be in the rebuild.
In this edition of “Detroit Red Wings Fast Forward,” a series that projects how a player will perform in 2020-21, the subject is forward Anthony Mantha, who reached the 20-goal mark in each of the past two seasons and looked likely to get there again in 2019-20 before the NHL shut down March 12 because of COVID-19.
The Wings had high hopes for Mantha when they targeted him in the 2013 draft. He was coming off a 50-goal, 89-point season with Val-d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was noted for his accurate shot.
The Wings were approaching their pick at No. 18 when then-general manager Ken Holland, confident Mantha would be still be available, swapped picks with San Jose and moved back to 20th, gaining a second-round pick in the trade (Tyler Bertuzzi, who would end up playing on a line with Mantha).
Mantha returned to Val-d’Or for 2013-14 and turned in a 57-goal, 120-point performance (in 57 games). At the World Juniors, he recorded 11 points in seven games for Canada. He embarked on his pro career and spent 2014-15 with the Grand Rapids Griffins, producing 15 goals and 18 assists in 62 games. His coach there was Jeff Blashill, who at the end of the season was promoted to the Wings job, replacing Mike Babcock.
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Mantha made his NHL debut in March 2016, recording two goals and one assist in 10 games. He spent most of 2015-16 in Grand Rapids, where he had 21 goals in 60 games. He also began 2016-17 in GR but was called up in mid-November after Andreas Athanasiou suffered an injury, and stayed for the rest of the season. Mantha had 17 goals and 19 assists when he suffered a season-ending injury fighting Luke Witkowski during a game against Tampa Bay.
Mantha endured a rough start to 2017-18, recording one goal and a minus-12 rating the first 10 games. After a 6-2 Thanksgiving Eve loss to the Edmonton Oilers, Blashill challenged the team’s young stars, saying Mantha, in particular, “has got to be way better. Way better.”
Mantha didn’t dispute that the next day: “I am just floating around a little bit too much.”
Mantha recorded 24 goals that season in 80 games. While his fight with Witkowski came with just five games left in the season, Mantha’s later pugilistic endeavors have hurt him and the Wings. On Dec. 2, 2018, Mantha fought Patrik Nemeth (then with Colorado, now a teammate) after Nemeth hit Dylan Larkin. Mantha underwent surgery for a hand injury, and missed a month. The Wings were 12-12-3 when Mantha got hurt; 15-20-7 by the time he returned. He was limited to 67 games, and still scored 25 goals.
Mantha had 12 goals in 29 games when he went after Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin during a Dec. 21, 2019, game in Toronto, after perceiving Muzzin had put a dirty hit on Wings defenseman Madison Bowey. (Bowey was fine.) The two didn’t fight, but Muzzin slew-footed Mantha, who landed on the ice and suffered a punctured lung. Muzzin was not discliplined. Mantha spent seven weeks on the sidelines.
He tallied two points in his return Feb. 11, eager to amend for lost time. “For me, maybe a goal would be a point a game until the end of the season,” he said at the time.
While Mantha’s willingness to stand up for teammates is commendable, he’s far more valuable to the Wings in the lineup. At 6-foot-5, and at least 230 pounds, he is their biggest forward and their best goalscorer. He, Larkin and Bertuzzi have, since spring of 2019, emerged as the team’s top line.
Mantha’s 16 goals in 43 games extrapolates to 30 over an 82-game season. His shortened 2019-20 season (even before the pandemic) is likely to lead to a one-year extension for the 25-year-old restricted free agent, giving him further time to make an argument for what would then be a long-term deal after next season, a year before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. Mantha has the skill set to be a 40-goal scorer, and projects to be a key part of the rebuild.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments that made the Detroit Red Wings will be published in October by Triumph Books. To preorder, go to Amazon.