DETROIT — Anthony Mantha got a little taste of the NHL last season and now he’s a man on a mission.
“Obviously the main goal is to make the team,” Mantha said after an informal skate at Joe Louis Arena. “We can’t lie about it. Every single player wants to make the team. But I just need to be ready when camp starts. We’re leaving on the 21st so I need to be ready on the 21st or 22nd when it starts. I just need to show them what I really got and how I can play my own game.”
Mantha, who turns 22 Friday, played in 10 games with the Red Wings last season, scoring two goals and an assist while taking 18 shots.
“I just focus on those 10 games last year,” Mantha said. “Obviously this summer it was motivation for me. I had a great summer of training, off-ice, on-ice. I’ve been skating with these guys for probably two or three weeks right now so I’m ready for camp and I just can’t wait to get it started.”
Although he was only in Detroit for a short time, Mantha said he learned a lot.
“I would probably say work ethic that the guys have,” Mantha said. “If it’s after games, just being in the gym, working out, stretching, during the game being intense every shift, every game.”
After his NHL stint, Mantha was sent back down to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, where he scored four goals and seven assists in nine playoff games.
“For sure it’s hard but I went back down to GR for the playoffs,” Mantha said. “I think I played well. Obviously after 10 games you have a little confidence built up so I think those playoffs went pretty good. But obviously it’s hard when you see Detroit on TV playing in the playoffs and you wish you were there.”
Mantha will have an excellent opportunity this preseason as injuries have sidelined captain Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen and several other players are competing in the World Cup.
Forwards Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Tomas Tatar and Thomas Vanek are all on World Cup teams.
Mantha knows what he needs to do to earn a spot.
“Obviously I need to play my game, I need to be hard on pucks, I need to score a few goals, I need to be a good net-front presence, win my one-on-one battles,” Mantha said. “It all comes down to being intense and wanting the puck more than I did in the past few years.”
Mantha scored both of his NHL goals against his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens.
But the Wings do not play Montreal in the preseason.
“That’s all right,” Mantha said. “I need to be a good player against any team out there. I need to be in my spot and not focus on who I’m playing against.”
One advantage Mantha has over most players is something that can’t be taught.
Forwards who are 6-foot-5, 214 pounds can be a great asset, especially when it comes to trying to block the view of some of the bigger goaltenders.
“Obviously it could help me out,” Mantha said. “I think last year was a good first year for me to do net-front. It was the first time for me practicing it. I worked on tips a lot during our practices, just getting the feel of being in the right position in front of the goalie’s eyes. So yeah, it could be a good advantage for me, being 6-4, 6-5.”
Ideally, Mantha would be playing a top-nine role among Wings forwards but he said he’s open to anything.
“To play up here, I think you can adjust your game any kind of way they want you in,” Mantha said. “Obviously for me right now it would be easier to play in the top nine, it’s just how I play, that’s my kind of game. But I’ll be ready for any kind of position they put me in.”
Two seasons ago, Mantha broke his right leg during a Prospects Tournament game, which put him in the unfortunate position of missing the first couple of months of the season.
Mantha now sees the bright side of the setback.
“If you look back at that injury that rookie season, it just helped me out in the long-term to face those situations,” Mantha said. “I learned a lot from that season. Obviously it wasn’t easy but I just had to step up the next season and I think that’s what I did.
“I just need to step up again this year.”