Ever since being selected 20th overall by Detroit at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Anthony Mantha has been focused on one goal:
Make the Red Wings.
It’s what Mantha aimed to do during his first NHL training camp last fall — but fell short, getting returned to QMHJL Val-d’Or — and it’s what he’s aiming to do again this year, albeit with more experience under his belt.
Mantha, 19, cemented himself as a dynamic goalscorer in junior hockey last year, recording his second straight 50-goal campaign by potting 57 in 57 games for the Foreurs — then continued that pace by netting another 24 in 24 playoff games.
In short, the kid can put pucks in the net.
Mantha also racked up 11 points in seven games for Canada at the World Juniors, and earned huge praise from Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer.
“He’s unique. He’s fun to watch,” Fischer said of Mantha, per NHL.com. “The bigger the games, the bigger he plays, the bigger his performance, the more he wants to win. He loves playing games.
“He knows that he’s going to get a chance [at training camp]. He’s going to get a top-six forward chance in camp and he’s excited about it.”
Making the leap will prove difficult. Several factors are working against Mantha, the first being his lack of pro hockey experience. He’s never played a day in the AHL, and for an organization like Detroit — which has consistently benefited from players maturing in the minors — a year riding buses in the “A” might be the preferred approach, developmentally speaking.
Then there’s Detroit’s slew of forwards up front. Per CapGeek, the Red Wings have 14 forwards on NHL contracts; the club is also waiting on word from veteran Daniel Alfredsson, who may or may not return this season.
It doesn’t sound like either of these factors has lessened Mantha’s desire to crack the bigs, though. In July, he re-iterated what he said last summer — it’s the NHL or bust.
“If you ask me, I think I am [ready],” Mantha said, per MLive.com. “At the end of the summer, I’ll be a few pounds heavier. I think I can play there. But as I mentioned, it’s (about) coming to camp, being ready and we’ll see.
“The skill level is there. I’m a tall, big guy. I think I can play there.”