Entering this season there were high hopes for Anthony Mantha.
The Red Wings prospect was hoping to make the leap to the NHL with Detroit; however, Mantha suffered a broken leg at the prospects tournament in Traverse City.
The injury forced the 20-year-old to miss the first month and a half of the season and even today Mantha feels like he’s playing catch up.
“That injury was hard. It took me two months off so that means I started two months later than everyone,” Mantha told PHT recently. “I’ve started to play really good, but I mean I’m still two months back of everyone so I need to put double the effort in.
“After my injury, it had been five months since I had played a real game and it hurt my confidence a little bit and obviously my game is not the same.”
On top of recovering from the broken leg, this is Mantha’s first season in the American Hockey League.
The forward is coming off back-to-back 50 goal seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Val d’Or Foreurs.
In 36 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Mantha has eight goals and 10 assists.
“I think its been hard. Especially starting late on everyone, but I’m getting there now and its going up hill,” Mantha said of the adjustment. “The guys are way better over here. They’re stronger; they’re harder on the puck. The goalies are also really good over here.”
Despite his early season struggles, Griffins’ coach Jeff Blashill has no doubt about Mantha’s future in the game.
“He’s got special skill for a guy his size. He can do things that other guys just can’t do,” said Blashill. “He’s going to be a great player; I truly believe that and its just going to be a matter of time.
“When you care as much as he cares, as soon as he learns the daily attention to detail and the daily work ethic it takes, with his skill set, he’s going to be a special player.”
As with any 20-year-old playing in the AHL, Blashill says Mantha needs to shed some of his junior habits in order to take his game to the next level.
“He was able to get away with not skating a ton and I think at this level you have to skate to get the puck, skate to get the puck back, you have to skate to make sure you’re not spending the whole time in the defensive zone,” said Blashill. “Its just a matter of changing those habits.
“That’s just going to take time, but habits will change if work at them and willing to work hard at them and listen and get better. That’s what he’s certainly been willing to do.”
Detroit is notorious developing late-round picks into NHL players. Riley Sheahan is the lone Red Wings’ forward currently on the roster, who was selected in the first round by Detroit.
Mantha, the Red Wings’ first-round pick (20th overall) in 2013, could soon be the second.
“We know he can score goals,” said Blashill. “But he’s actually got an ability to make lots of plays with the puck in tight areas and I think when you’ve got that kind of stick, at that size level, when you can skate like that – its just a really good package.”