NHL on NBCSN: Mantha makes already-beefy Capitals that much bigger

NHL on NBCSN: Mantha makes already-beefy Capitals that much bigger
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals. Capitals-Flyers coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

During a recent NBCSN telecast of a Capitals game, Tom Wilson left Brian Boucher and others chuckling when he referred to Alex Ovechkin as “The Big Guy.”

If Alex Ovechkin wasn’t already hanging around to spoil it, someone could easily ask: which Big Guy?

Ovechkin, of course, is a large hockey human (6-foot-3, listed at 238 lbs.,) but so is Wilson, as are quite a few other key Capitals. While professional athletes can be cagey about their height and weight in ways not that different from WWE superstars, it’s striking that the Capitals only boast one defenseman listed under 6-feet-tall (Dmitry Orlov, a hair away at 5-foot-11).

[CAPITALS-FLYERS PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Upon hearing of the shocking Anthony ManthaJakub Vrana trade, people debated if the Capitals overpaid, especially considering the picks involved. Some wonder if Vrana’s flat-out better than Mantha, or that they might as well consider it a tie.

So, there’s some debate that Vrana could actually be just as much of a catch as Mantha. But there’s no denying that the Capitals got that much bigger by trading for Anthony Mantha (6-foot-5, 234 lbs.).

And it sounds like this was by design, even if the opportunity might have fallen into the Caps’ laps.

If travel goes as planned, hockey fans can see how Mantha can make the Capitals bigger (and better?) as soon as Tuesday’s game vs. the Flyers on NBCSN.

Capitals valued Mantha’s blend of size, skill for some time

After trading for Mantha, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan explained that the team thought highly of his mix of size and skill for some time.

“We have really liked Anthony for quite a while now,” MacLellan said, via the team website. “I like a lot of the attributes: the size, the skill, the shot, the scoring ability. He is a really good skater for his size. It’s a player that we’ve liked and talked about a lot in our room, and we had a chance to acquire him, so we went out and got him.”

To MacLellan, Mantha’s size shines through in his strength on the puck, rather than “physically running over people.”

Both the eye test and the numbers back up the notion that Mantha is more than just a “big body.”

Pondering where he might fit

The Capitals don’t just have (often-large) forwards and defensemen to roll out for line combinations. There are also big personalities firmly established in certain roles. That’s where things might be interesting regarding Anthony Mantha, who has to hope that he’ll get more reps than Jakub Vrana did.

Of course, the Capitals traded for a player in Mantha who isn’t a typical deadline rental. Instead, he’s on a very team-friendly $5.7 million AAV through 2023-24. They can experiment with different setups.

MacLellan mentioned as much, throwing out an interesting set of possibilities for Mantha.

“The coaches can move him around a little bit,” MacLellan said, via The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir (sub required). “He is going to have three good centers that he can play with. … He’ll get some power-play time. He’s really good net-front presence, could be a goal line guy. We are going to put him in offensive situations. He is a smart player that can play with smart players.”

Would Mantha work better on the top or second power-play unit?

Ideally, the Capitals would be smart about finding the fit(s) that bring out the best in Mantha. Again, Vrana — a different, but quite good forward in his own right — struggled to gain top opportunities.

In particular, it will be interesting to see if Mantha can snag occasional reps on the Capitals’ top power play unit. During the last 10 games, easily the most common unit was one that wouldn’t surprise you. Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie formed that PP unit, via Left Wing Lock.

Being that Mantha isn’t afraid to unleash his shot, maybe it wouldn’t work to deploy him with Ovechkin in certain circumstances. Theoretically, Mantha could be the focal point of a second unit. Or, if the Capitals got experimental, they could even try something closer to an even split (maybe pair Ovechkin with one of Kuznetsov or Backstrom, and Mantha with the other?).

Ultimately, the best answer might boil down to mixing and matching. Are the Capitals trying to make too many cute passing plays on the power play? Maybe set up a “pick your poison” situation where Ovechkin and Mantha both could be one-timer threats. If things get stale at even-strength, the Capitals could easily move Mantha and others around.

It all sounds like a good problem to have … especially if Peter Laviolette uses Mantha more than he usually deployed Vrana.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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