Mantha's abilities a rare sight for Red Wings fans
Anthony Mantha is a winger who can score goals and be tough when necessary.
Anthony Mantha is a commodity the Red Wings have not had in a long time – a big winger who can score goals and be tough when necessary.
It's been a few years before concussions basically ended the career of Johan Franzen. Before that it was when Brendan Shanahan wore the winged wheel.
Mantha, who is only 23, is 6-5 and 225 pounds and leads Detroit with 10 goals. His 19 points is second to Dylan Larkin’s 20, and he has played in all games this season.
In the 8-2 win over the Calgary Flames at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 15, Mantha provided the proof that he is talented and tough with the rare Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
He had two goals (both on the power play) and an assist, and he traded punches with Calgary's Travis Hamonic during a brawl late in the game.
"I think he can be a superstar in this league," Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said of Mantha. "He can do it in many fashions, whether it's with his hands, his shots or deflecting pucks in front. He's a very dynamic player. If he contiinues to work hard and work at his craft, the sky's the limit for him."
Mantha, who is from Longueuil, Quebec, was the 20th pick overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. At the time he was Detroit's second highest draft pick in 22 years, after Martin Lapointe, No. 10 in 1991.
After a slow start to his professional career, Mantha is blossoming as an NHL player in the early-season going with 11 points in his last eight games.
"I just think it's part of the maturation of him as a player," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "As you mature as a player, he gets more ice time. As you get more ice time, you get a chance to produce more when you're talented like he is."
He is certainly one of the most compelling stories on a team that appears to be slightly above mediocre, at best, and will have to have many things go right in order to avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
"It's great to hear," Mantha said when told of Howard's comments. "It's always fun when teammates talk good about you. I just need to keep going that way. If (Howard) thinks I'm playing good, if I keep going that way it could be a good impact for this team."
Mantha is not related to former NHL defenseman Moe Mantha, though his teammates have nicknamed him "Mo." But he does have NHL bloodlines. His paternal grandfather is Stanley Cup-winning Andre Pronovost, who played with the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars during a 10-season NHL career (1956-57 to 1964-65 and 1967-68). He won four cups with Montreal from 1957-1960.
In fact, Pronovost was at the game at Joe Louis Arena on March 25, 2016, in which his grandson scored his first NHL goal in a 4-3 win over the Canadiens.
Cameras caught Pronovost with a tear in his eye after the goal.
"It's unbelievable," Mantha said after that game. "Obviously, my grandparents were very happy, my parents also."
He showed potential last season with 17 goals and 36 points and a plus-10 rating in 60 games, but there was never any question about Mantha's goal-scoring ability.
He had consecutive 50-goal seasons with Val d'Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2012-13 and 2013-14, capping his Junior career with 57 goals and 120 points in 2013-14.
A broken leg in training camp delayed his pro debut with Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2014-15, and then he struggled with only 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games. But the following season was a different story as Mantha had 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games in Grand Rapids and two goals and an assist in 10 games with the Red Wings.
He began the 2016-17 season with the Griffins, but after eight goals and 10 points in 10 games, he was promoted to the NHL for good.
A big part of his development this season has been Blashill's decision to take advantage of his size by using him as the net-front presence on the power play. Half of Mantha's goals this season have come on the power play.
"Having him net front on the power play I think has helped him understand the value of being at the net," Blashill said. "I coached with (former Red Wing) Mike Knuble in Grand Rapids, and he was someone who learned that value really young. When guys can learn it, they understand, if you're around that net, there's lots of goals to be had. I think that's a huge part of Mantha's development process.
"I think if he had to pick his spot on the power play, it wouldn't have been net front at the beginning of the year. But he's really learning to be a weapon there, and when you're a weapon around the net, you're going to score goals."
Mantha had been accustomed to playing further away from the net because of his shot.
"I talked to him when camp opened and said, 'This is the spot I have for you. You got go embrace it.' " Blashill said. "And he has. And, as a result, he's learned to be a better net-front guy all around. It's a spot he can produce at."
Said Mantha: "It's all confidence, it comes down to that and making the right plays at the right moment."
He has certainly done that so far.