We have arrived at the moment many Red Wings fans have been waiting for, even pleading for. Anthony Mantha will make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. To make it all the more intriguing, he’ll be doing it in easily the most crucial game of the Wings season thus far.
The timing of this is both curious and yet obvious. The Wings have been desperate for goals, so it makes too much sense to recall their top offensive prospect. However, to do it in such an important game is ballsy. It’s a move that previous coaches might not have been the type to consider, but here we are.
The question now becomes, who is Anthony Mantha? Or more importantly, what is Anthony Mantha? Every Red Wings fan likely knows his name, knows where he went in the draft, knows that he scores oodles of goal and knows that Jim Devellano may not be particularly fond of him. Even with that knowledge, no one knows what can we expect out of him in a Red Wings uniform? Many fans did not get a chance to watch him in Grand Rapids or Val D’or. I won’t vomit out all of stats and accolades that he received in junior and the NHL, but I highly recommend taking the time to go through them all because they are impressive.
Projecting what prospects will do in the NHL from an objective standpoint still involves plenty of guesswork, so let’s focus more on what we can expect to see on a game to game basis, and what type of player he is.
The first thing that pops out when you look at his bio, he’s 6’5 214 pounds. He’s a big boy so naturally your first thought would be he’s a dirty, gritty, rough & tumble Milan Lucic type. Works hard and throws around his body to create chances. Not quite. Mantha is a finesse player who uses his top end offensive instincts and skill set to create his opportunities. He’s not afraid to be physical and does so when necessary, but it’s not his first weapon of choice. That being said, he’s not afraid to drop the gloves when needed…… eventually.
(I should note that he has more willing fights under his belt in the AHL vs. Stu Bickell & Josh Morrissey)
The most important thing that everyone needs to know about Manthony, he is a very gifted goal scorer. That’s his thing. It’s the one part of the game he does exceptionally well. His playmaking is tremendously underrated but make no mistake; it’s not going to be what keeps him in the show. His biggest weapon is his shot. He releases quick, accurate and with power. It’s truly a beautiful thing. Slapshot, wrist shot, backhand doesn’t matter to him. He may be one of the top 3 shooters on the Wings as soon as he steps in.
To compliment his wicked shot, he possesses a set of silky smooth hands. He reads goalies very well and has the hands and mindset to beat a goalie in whichever way he deems best. He’s particularly useful on breakaways and in the shootout. (Oh hey, a guy we could use in the shootout!)
One of the biggest criticisms of the young forward is that he appears lazy at times. However, there’s a difference between “taking it easy” and “playing with ease”, and for the most part, you see the latter in his game. Johan Franzen similar criticisms that he eventually shed, and is the best example of what type of player we can expect Anthony to become. Hopefully, though, with a higher ceiling.
The legitimate criticisms floating around Mantha are his weaknesses defensively and his infrequent use of his big frame. Nobody’s claiming he is an elite two player, and nobody is saying he’s going to intimidate anyone physically. However, the good news is that both things can be taught and he has been improving in both aspects. It’s a work in progress to be sure, but he’s shown in Grand Rapids he’s willing to learn.
The other important thing to take note while judging his entry into the NHL is that he had a tremendously slow start in Grand Rapids last season. To be fair, he did miss training camp, pre-season and the first month of his first pro season because of a broken leg so we’ll never actually know if the difficulty he had transitioning was due to his play, his lack of preparation time, his injury or any combination of the three. So don’t be surprised if it happens in Detroit as well.
In the end, there is plenty reason to be hyped up for Anthony’s debut, but this should be approached with cautious optimism. When he’s not scoring you may not notice him, and it may take him a bit to get his NHL legs under him. If all goes according to plan, he could be an impact player for years to come, but tonight is just another step on the ladder.