DETROIT – The door was opened when Ken Holland told a young prospect – who will make his debut as a pro player this year – would be given every chance to make the Red Wings’ big-club roster for the upcoming season.
Since then, Anthony Mantha has used that conversation to fuel his desire to make an impact with the team that made him the No. 20 overall draft pick in 2013.
“You come into the big camp with the willingness to make the team, so that’s the only thing I’m going to focus on right now,” Mantha said Friday. “We’re going to build off of that and we’re going to see how the camp goes and if I play in the exhibition games, things like that. It will be Mike (Babcock) and Kenny’s decision to decide if they keep me or not.”
The 19-year-old Mantha, last season’s Canadian Hockey League MVP, skated for the first time this month with other players in the Red Wings’ voluntary practice at Joe Louis Arena.
Next week, Mantha heads to Traverse City where he highlights a roster consisting of 11 players who helped the Red Wings win their first-ever NHL Prospects tournament championship last September. Mantha went on to score 81 goals in 81 regular-season and playoff games for his junior team in Val d’Or, Quebec.
Mantha will be among a slew of forwards at the team’s big camp, however, they don’t have enough roster spots to accommodate everyone. In fact, coach Mike Babcock has already hinted that Darren Helm, who has played most of his seven NHL seasons as a centerman, will switch to wing to alleviate some of the logjam up the middle.
Mantha knows that making the leap from juniors to pros – whether he plays in the NHL or in Grand Rapids with the club’s AHL affiliate – comes with many challenges.
“I’ve talked to a few guys, especially (Xavier) Ouellet. It’s obviously a huge step,” Mantha said. “He was telling me that guys are way bigger. They’re men. You’re one-on-one battles need to be hard on those (players), and for me it’s going to be a big step that I need to carry through, and we’re going to see how it goes.”
Mantha was a scoring machine in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, producing 160 goals and 283 points in 226 regular-season and playoff games. He added 17 pounds of muscle in the offseason, bulking to 217 pounds, while continuing to work on sharpening his defensive skills.
“Last year and the year before it was my defensive game, and also my one-on-one battles,” Mantha said. “I worked a lot on both aspects of that game. Obviously, it’s not perfect right now but I need to get better and better. That’s how you’re going to become a pro.”
Mantha did get a small taste of what he can expect as a pro when he skated for more than 12 ½ minutes in last year’s preseason opener in Pittsburgh.
“It was my first (game) so I was maybe a little bit stressed,” he said. “I expect this year I won’t be as stressed as last year. I mean, I’m here to play my game. I need to be prepared for any situations that are going to happen.
“I know what to prepare for. I know how the game is played. … I know what it takes to come here and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”