Anthony Mantha is tied for second on the Red Wings in goals, with 14, and his 33 points are third on the team.
Yet tonight, he’ll be watching as a spectator.
Head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed Mantha will be a healthy scratch against Chicago, after the 22-year-old went pointless in back-to-back losses to the Leafs and Bruins, registering just two shots on goal with a minus-2 rating.
“There are opportunities, in coaching, to have teaching moments to make sure the trajectory of the player is as upward as we are going to need him to be,” Blashill explained ahead of Friday’s tilt against the ‘Hawks, per the Free Press. “He’s going to be a great player in this league. He’s going to be a great player for us, still, this year.
“But tonight, we are going to let him have an opportunity to watch, and then he’ll get back in there. When he gets his opportunity, I assume he is going to be great.”
Mantha arrived in Detroit with great fanfare. The 20th overall pick in 2013 was a scoring machine in junior, recording back-to-back 50-goal campaigns in the Quebec League.
But his professional career has been erratic.
Following his first year (’14-15) with AHL Grand Rapids, Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano infamously called Mantha “very, very, very disappointing.” Things looked to improve in ’15-16, as Mantha played well in the minors and made his NHL debut — but then, things took a turn at the start of this season when he failed to make the team out of training camp.
After racking up 10 points in 10 games for the Griffins, Mantha was recalled and hasn’t looked back.
He’s been productive offensively — and averaging a healthy 16:43 TOI per game — but admitted his overall game has dropped off. Mantha said he needs to be more intense and win more one-on-one battles.
The Red Wings and Blashill will probably face some criticism for this decision, especially since the playoff dream is dead. One could argue playing as much as possible right now is a bigger learning opportunity than sitting.
But Detroit has clearly set a precedent with its youngsters — Andreas Athanasiou was parked back in January — so this could be more about staying consistent, as opposed to sending a message.