DETROIT – Coach Jeff Blashill drove to Cleveland Wednesday to watch the team he used to coach set a new franchise record for consecutive victories.
Well, that’s not completely accurate.
Actually, Blashill attended the AHL game with the intention of seeing for himself how some of the Red Wings’ top prospects are coming along.
Besides witnessing the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 12th consecutive win, Blashill was quite impressed with several of the organization’s minor-league talent, including Anthony Mantha, who scored twice in the 3-2 victory over Lake Erie at Quicken Loans Arena.
Mantha, the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick from 2013, is currently third in team scoring with 15 points in 18 games for the Griffins.
“I thought Anthony played well,” Blashill said. “He scored, so that … probably twists your view of it a little bit, but I thought he played well. I like the fact that he did a good job skating away from the puck, to get the puck or to track back. And I thought he won battles. I think if Anthony Mantha does those things he’s gonna be a real good NHL player in time.”
The 21-year-old Mantha missed four games with a concussion following a fight against San Diego’s Stu Bickel on Nov. 20. Since his return, the 6-foot-5 Mantha has produced three goals and five assists with a plus-5 rating in his past five games.
“He looks like an NHL guy with his size and his skill set,” Blashill said. “He’s just gotta continue to grow as a hockey player. I think he’s gaining confidence. I think we have to be very careful to make sure he stays in a position where he can continue to gain confidence.”
The Griffins will host the Texas Stars this Friday and Saturday before taking a six-day Christmas break. According to Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin, it’s at that time the Wings plan to call up a player. It makes sense, especially with the Red Wings hosting two games – Sunday against Calgary and Tuesday against New Jersey – before the NHL shuts down for three days in observance of the Christmas holiday.
“I would expect that to happen,” said Blashill of a call up. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen sooner. We have to check the health of everybody again, make sure everybody is good.”
Blashill said everyone who played Monday against Buffalo is available for Friday’s home game against the Vancouver Canucks. However, a flu bug has been going around the Wings’ dressing room, which could affect the lineup in the coming days. Though Tomas Tatar, who missed practice on Wednesday with a high fever, did skate Thursday and said he felt much better.
Who the Wings chose to call up is anyone’s guess.
“We got to feel like they’re better than the guys we have,” Blashill said. “We think there’s some more we can still get, I think certain guys can play … I think (Tomas Jurco), there’s still more there. I think (Joakim Andersson), there’s still more there. So I think those two guys can be even better come Friday night.”
Andreas Athanasiou made his NHL debut in November, filling in for the injured Landon Ferraro. The speedy Athanasiou was impactful during his six-game stint with the Red Wings. His first career goal was the lone score in a 1-0 win over Washington on Nov. 10.
But Athanasiou has missed the past two Griffins games as he’s recovering from a lower-body injury and his status for this weekend’s games in Grand Rapids remain uncertain.
Still, Blashill said whomever the Wings decides to call up will be based on team need.
“We’ve got options and I think a lot of call-ups, lots of times, is situational,” he said. “Double A’s probably one guy that can fill certain (roles). He can be a fourth-liner or a top-three line player. But there’s also, there might be guys that are – who’s the best penalty killer? Who’s gonna maybe give you an option to be a little more physical, or a little bigger? There’s different guys in different roles there. I think there’s a bunch of good players there that could come up and play. Now it’s just a matter of do we think they’re a better option than what we have, and what’s the best fit?”
As for the Griffins’ streak, which re-establishes a record originally set during the 2005-06 AHL season, Blashill was pleased with how his former players have adjusted to a new voice in Todd Nelson, who took over as head coach this season.
“When I watched the first period I thought they were great. They looked like a Todd Nelson team,” Blashill said. “They were transitioning fast, they were very, very active offensively. They had a lot of things going in the o-zone. I think that they probably understand his message now. They have him identity and they’re a talented hockey team with lots of confidence. So it’s a good combination.”