TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Anthony Mantha’s confidence was riding sky-high when he was drafted by the Red Wings in June. And rightly so, the 6-foot-4 forward was the 20th overall player selected on Day 1 of the two-day draft in New Jersey.
Three months later, the big, left winger is more realistic about his chances of cracking the Red Wings’ roster this month, but it hasn’t dimmed his outlook for the future.
“I’m close, but at the same time I’m so far,” Mantha said. “There are so many players out there. If it’s not this year I’ll go back to my junior team and work on every detail that I can so when they call me up anytime they’ll have confidence in me to play here one day.”
The Canadian Hockey League’s only 50-goal scorer last season, it’s evident that the Red Wings’ coaches want to take a longer look at Mantha. The Red Wings entered the 2013 draft with the philosophy of adding big, physical forwards to the system. Mantha is a real intriguing package. To go along with his size, he possesses a great shot and seems to find the open ice on the offensive end.
Mantha survived the first day of cuts when the Red Wings sent five youngsters – forwards Tyler Bertuzzi (Guelph), Philippe Hudon (Victoriaville) and Zach Nastasiuk (Owen Sound), defenseman Michal Plutnar (Tri-City), and goalie Jake Paterson (Saginaw) – back to their junior teams on Sunday.
So having played in the prospect tournament, which the young Wings won, and four days of training camp, where is Mantha’s confidence heading into tonight’s exhibition?
“It would be close to the top right now,” he said. “I never lived this. I live for the moment and I’m just playing how I should play. I think the details are coming in and that’s why I’m still here and I’ll keep playing that way until the end.”
Mantha, who turned 19 today, will be in the lineup tonight when the Red Wings travel to Pittsburgh to open the eight-game exhibition season against the Penguins and his boyhood idol.
Mantha is expected to play on the fourth-line with fellow prospect Calle Jarnkrok and veteran forward Jordin Tootoo. According to the Penguins’ web site, Sidney Crosby will center a line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
“We were laughing about it, a few guys yesterday, like I’ll ask (Crosby) for an autograph at the faceoff,” Mantha joked. “He’s one of the greatest players out there and playing against, even if he’s not on my team, just watching him I can learn a lot off it just watching him play. I’ll try to manage not get scored on by him tonight.”
By the end of the month, Mantha will likely return to his QMJHL team in Val-d’Or for his fourth junior season, but not before using every minute in the Wings’ training camp as a learning moment.
“You need to learn everyday you’re out here on the ice,” said Mantha, who is the grandson of four-time Stanley Cup winner Andre Pronovost. “There are such good players out there that every day you can learn something new. I just watched at the end (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Jakub) Kindl play one-on-one, he has one of the best pair of hands in the league and he still practices it. It’s all the details that make the difference.”
But tonight will be something that Mantha will always remember.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” he said. “I’m playing in Pittsburgh, it’ll be a dream coming true for me. I’m pretty excited.”
The Red Wings will take 20 players, including 13 regulars, to Pittsburgh tonight. The line combinations and defensive pairings are:
Henrik Zetterberg – Pavel Datsyuk – Justin Abdelkader
Daniel Cleary – Joakim Andersson – Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Tatar – Luke Glendenning – Landon Ferraro
Anthony Mantha – Calle Jarnkrok – Jordin Tootoo
Danny DeKeyser – Jakub Kindl
Kyle Quincey – Brendan Smith
Brennan Evans – Adam Almquist
Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose