EDMONTON, AB - Bakersfield Condors defenceman Ryan Mantha joined the Oilers organization at last season's NHL Trade Deadline, after signing a three-year entry-level contract. Originally a 2014 fourth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers, the 21-year-old chose not to sign with the Rangers franchise, making him available as a free agent. Mantha finished last campaign with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League and is now 23 games into his American Hockey League career. In the 21 games he's played this season, the 6-foot-5, 229-pound blueliner has one goal, five assists and is a steady minus-two.
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The Condors are 9-11-3 with a .457 win percentage. How's the season been thus far?
"It's been really good. We've had some ups and downs as a team but we have a really good group of guys. Even for myself, it's been a little bit of an adjustment coming from junior hockey but with the group we have, it's been a lot easier than I thought it would be."
It's your first year of professional hockey, how has the transition to the pro ranks been?
"As a defenceman, obviously, plays are quicker. Everything's done more assertive. Junior hockey has its guys that still go to college after junior, where here every single player lays everything they have on the line to win a game, to block shots, to score. The intensity level is a lot higher. The speed is faster but I haven't noticed anything major from junior but it's just different in a lot of little ways, I guess I could say."
Has your size (6-foot-5, 229-pounds) benefitted you at the next level?
"Yeah. I'm a bigger guy but that's still something we talk a lot about. I'm still learning when to use my size. That's probably been the biggest adjustment: In junior hockey, guys kind of run around where now you have to pick and choose so you don't get burned because obviously, the skill level is a lot higher. That's still something I try to get better at every day."
Who have you been paired with this season?
Keegan Lowe. As of late, that's what it's been. I've been with Lowe for probably the last 3-4 weeks to a month and a half.
Have any of the veteran defencemen taken you under their wing? How has that helped?
"A few. (Mark) Fayne helps out a ton with different scenarios. But even our captain Ryan Hamilton, I don't think I've ever played for such a good captain. Just the way he calms things down. Or even just talking to us in between periods. Even on little things, like today in practice, he'll point something out and he's obviously been around for a little while, so you take those tips from him. He'll say something and you'll realize, 'Wow, I've never even thought about that,' but it's a great point."
Speaking of the captain, Hamilton just welcomed a new addition to his family.
"Yeah, he had a little boy last week. He didn't come with us to Texas last week because obviously, his wife was having a kid. It's different, but it's cool to see everybody's scenarios away from the rink and it was great to see that."
A lot was made over the summer about you, Ethan and Caleb becoming core members of the Condors' blueline. How has that situation been for you three as a collective?
"It's been good for the three of us. Obviously, Ethan's been hurt by injury. I've been rooming with Caleb on the road and I know he's younger than me by a year, but it's been a lot of fun with the three of us."
Was it nice having developed a relationship with those two before joining the club?
"100 percent. We all played together at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton and obviously, Ethan and Caleb have known each other for longer. But for me, it's been an easy adjustment getting along with them. They're both funny guys and fun guys to be around. It's fun to know that those two are going through the same situation as I am."
I know Head Coach Gerry Fleming said he is being patient with the younger defencemen. How has he and the rest of the coaching staff been for your guys' development?
"They've been great. Us three are all D-men and J.F. Houle, our D coach, pulls us in to do video and is helping us out in aspects like that. Even after practice, he's willing to stay out and do skills with us, which is a huge part of our building and growing as players. And during the games, he'll do that. J.F.'s been great for us."
You were known for having a big slapshot in junior, as well as when playing golf because you had the longest drive in Jasper. How has your slapshot faired against professional goaltenders? Has it gotten harder?
"As for the longest drive, we had a golf outing here and I actually tied someone for that so I was kind of pumped about that. My shot, I think I've always had a good shot. The thing is, I'm not using it enough. I think I can shoot more. I think that will come over time. We just hit the 20-game mark or a little over that so it's our first 20 games. That's really the adjustment: realizing you have more time than you think. I think that's something that comes over time with confidence and more experience."
Instead of stemming from the aforementioned clapper, your first pro goal came in front of the net after some sly stickhandling on Eddie Lack. Take me through that goal.
"I had a shot a few nights before to score, so I had a feeling it may come soon. It sounds weird to say but I was getting chances and I saw their (Stockton's) D. The winger had his back turned to me and their D gave him the puck. I just pinched him and then I saw (Grayson) Downing get the puck clear. I saw Christoffer had a bit of a gap on their defenceman. I saw the pass made and I kept following down to the net. He found a way to get it to me. I saw Lack sprawled out and I thought I could beat him on the outside. So, I held on to it and put it backhand. Out of all the goalies, it was kind of cool to get it on an NHLer."