DETROIT – Despite some criticism and inconsistency in his first pro season, Anthony Mantha remains as confident as he was the day the Red Wings selected him 20th overall in the 2013 NHL draft.
Last September, Mantha suffered a fractured right tibia during the NHL Prospects tournament in Traverse City. He turned in his hockey stick for crutches, missed the Wings’ main training camp, and his first pro season spiraled into adversity.
He was widely considered a lock to make his NHL debut in a Wings’ sweater as a roster call-up last season. But that was before the leg injury. His pro debut at AHL Grand Rapids was delayed, and the expectations – fair or unfairly based on back-to-back 50-plus goal seasons in the QMJHL – never materialized.
A regular-season trip down I-96 to the Red Wings’ roster did not happen.
The injury stunted Mantha’s on-ice growth, holding him out of the first eight weeks of the season. But now, on the eve of the Wings’ annual development camp in northern Michigan, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound power forward is ready to put last season in the rearview mirror.
“I’m here a little bit more confident than last season,” said Mantha, before the prospects boarded busses at Joe Louis Arena for the four-hour drive to Traverse City on Wednesday. “I need to keep showing stuff to the organization in this camp and I need to come in September and be ready for a fresh new start. My goal is the same, to play in the NHL, so I need to come here and be ready and have a better season for sure.”
The former CHL player of the year, Mantha struggled in his first American Hockey League season, producing 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games with the Griffins. His playoff efforts were much worse, registering just two goals and two assists in 16 contests.
“It was difficult, especially right off the bat like that after coming off a great season,” Mantha said. “It was hard from the mental side as far as the physical side. But it’s a fresh start right now and I hope it’s going to go upward from here.”
It wasn’t a horrible regular season, but the Wings had a much higher outlook for Mantha, who scored 107 goals in his last two junior seasons before turning pro. Trade rumors began to circulate again in May after senior vice president Jim Devellano voiced his disappointment in Mantha’s first campaign.
It’s also believed that Mantha was discussed as a possible chip in a NHL trade deadline deal that would have brought Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf to the Red Wings last March.
If anything, the rumors and Devellano’s opining has fueled Mantha’s desire to reverse misconceptions the club may have of the 20-year-old from Longueuil, Quebec.
“I didn’t really listen to his comments,” Mantha said. “We were in (AHL) playoffs. I talked to (Jeff Blashill) a little bit and he just told me to keep playing my way. So we tried to just keep that aside. As for the trade rumors I’m a business at hockey. If they wanted to trade me, they would have. … I’m still here and my goal is staying the same. I want to play for Detroit.”
Clearly, Mantha arrived in Detroit for the five-day camp with a reason that is motivating him.
“Oh, for sure it does,” he said. “I was telling myself I had the rest of the playoffs to show them wrong and I tried building off of that. I had a few good games, a few bad games in playoffs, but that’s part of hockey. … It’s part of adversity. You need to build through it and come out stronger.”
Mantha knows that his reclamation project begins this week with his third development camp.
“It’s a learning program. We’re not perfect yet and we need to keep learning. Obviously it’s to prepare yourself also for the main camp. We just touch base with the coaching staff and all the other players.”
Mantha doesn’t plan to down-grade is confidence this season. His goals remain the same.
“I won’t lie, this is the same this year,” he said. “I need to come here and maybe try playing a few exhibition games. I’ve only had one in two (training) camps so far, so I obviously aim for quite a few exhibition games this year and build off of that and try to make the lineup for sure.”