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Notes: Mantha wants to be elite young player that the Wings need

First-round pick Rasmussen learning a lot in first NHL camp

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TRAVERSE CITY - The Red Wings are seeking a young star and Anthony Mantha wants to be that player.

Mantha, who turned 23 Saturday, was tied for third on the team in goals last season with captain Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Frans Nielsen at 17.

However, Mantha needed just 60 games to reach that instead of 82, 80 and 79, respectively.

Mantha could have broken the 20-goal barrier had he not suffered a broken finger March 30 in Tampa after fighting now-teammate Luke Witkowski.

"We're fine," Witkowski said Saturday. "We were shooting some pucks yesterday and he kept hitting me in the hand and I was like, 'You trying to get me back?' He said, 'Yeah, I got to shoot it harder.' We're good. That's part of the game. Players understand that and leave it on the ice."

Mantha agreed Sunday that there were no hard feelings.

"I laughed about it," Mantha said Sunday. "The first thing is he's now a teammate and what happened last year happened last year. It's all over. I was laughing yesterday on Twitter when I saw he said I was shooting for his fingers there. We just joked about it. It's fun now. He's got my back for this year and that's what he's up here for."

Mantha said it took about three to four weeks in the offseason for his broken finger to heal and then he was able to resume his normal workouts.

"I had another great summer, a long summer to work out, eat good, put some weight on," Mantha said. "So I'm ready to go and I can't wait to hit the first exhibition game."

Mantha said he started last summer around 217 pounds and managed to finish this summer at 230 pounds. Currently at 227-28, he plans to start the season at 225.

This season will be a little different than the previous two as Mantha is already considered part of the Wings rather than having to fight for a roster spot.

But Mantha realizes he still has work to do.

"There's a little stress that's gone from last year, for sure," Mantha said. "I need to get (coach Jeff Blashill) to have in confidence in me in the D zone when I have the puck, when I don't have the puck. I think I did a pretty good job last year, I need to keep going that way. It's still a learning curve."

Mantha said he is looking to be a more consistent player like Zetterberg has established himself to be over the years.

"I don't want to have a slump this year," Mantha said. "I want to have the best year I could. This year's my contract year. I also need to focus for that. I just want to be a good player in general and try to help the team out."

Early on, Blashill has Mantha on a line with Larkin and Justin Abdelkader.

"Larkin in the middle got so much speed," Mantha said. "We saw that today in the skate test and he was just flying. Abby being on the left and myself on the right, we could open so much room for Larks and win our one-on-one battles in the corners, just be a great trio defensively."

Blashill believes that Mantha has corrected some of his old habits and thinks he has the potential to be elite.

"First of all, he's always been an excellent person," Blashill said. "He's an excellent, excellent human being who I think wants to be a really good hockey player. He's a somewhat easygoing guy. He's got a smile on his face most days. But he wants to be a good hockey player. I just think it's all habits.

"When you're able to play and have the success he had in major junior without really moving your feet, why would you move them when you have success? Until you kind of get to the next level where all of a sudden maybe you don't have that same level of success, it's hard to make those changes. Habits are hard to change, they don't change overnight. It's been a process but it's been a good process. That's what it's about for most guys."

RASMUSSEN'S FIRST CAMP: A lot of eyes are on Michael Rasmussen, the Wings' first-round pick, ninth overall, in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

That's not just because Rasmussen stands 6-foot-6 at 18 years old.

As he does with most things, Rasmussen is taking his first NHL training camp very seriously.

"I was just kind of trying to take it day-by-day to see how it was and I think I've done it pretty well," Rasmussen said. "I've learned a lot and I will keep on learning. I'm really happy to be out here being with these guys, competing with these guys. It's been really good so far."

Rasmussen fractured his left wrist playing for the Tri-City Americans in February but said he's completely healed.

"I was in a cast for a lot of months there and lots of rehab, but it's feeling good now, so, I'm happy with it now," Rasmussen said. "I still could work out, I couldn't shoot or anything like that. I kind of took it as a positive, got into the gym and worked on that kind of stuff."

In camp, Rasmussen has been paying attention to the more veteran players.

"All the guys on the Wings on how they all kind of prepared and practiced," Rasmussen said. "For me, (Evgeny) Svechnikov, see how he works and prepares. I play close attention to him and some of the other guys as well. I talk to Svech a lot, he's a good guy, he's a good teammate."

Blashill wants the youngster to not just focus on the task at hand but be thinking of the big picture that lies ahead.

"The first thing is to be able to have a measuring stick of what he needs to do to be able to make sure that a year from now he's knocking on the door to make the hockey team," Blashill said. "I don't know if he will or won't but that's what I'd want to do. I'd want to have that measuring stick. In the skate test today, where was he at compared to NHL guys? Where was his highest number compared to the NHL guys' highest number? Make sure I got that measuring stick to know the things I need to work on to get better.

"I think sometimes for your players who have had tons of success, you don't realize as you move up the pyramid how hard it is. When you come to a main camp you get a realization right away that there's some really good players here, I got lots of work to do. So hopefully that's what he takes out of this. I like him tons. He's a big, smooth skater. That's a heck of an asset. He's got good offensive sense and I think he can score."

Blashill said he plans to play Rasmussen in at least one exhibition game.

NO RED-WHITE FOR THEM: Niklas Kronwall has not skated yet in camp and Blashill said he will not participate in the annual Red-White Game, but could skate with the players who aren't playing.

Whether Kronwall skates at all has yet to be determined.

Blashill also said Givani Smith will not skate at all Monday due to a lower-body injury suffered in Saturday's scrimmage.

SKATING TEST: Wings prospect Jordan Sambrook summed it up best as he headed to the dressing room after the annual skating test: "Not too fun!"

Every year the players have to skate in groups from goal line to goal line for what seems like a million times with just a few breaks while another group goes.

"One thing about the skate test is there's a visual part to that, where you can just see," Blashill said. "And not only can you see as a coach but their teammates can see. I think that's a great thing. The heart monitor just gives us another way to judge guys and to say, 'Are we in elite shape, are we not in elite shape.' I don't have any issues with this team not being in elite shape. I'm not all that concerned about it but the skate test also sits out there for a player to make sure he does the work to come into camp in great shape."

Rasmussen has likely done the test before but this was his first time doing so with the Wings.

"It was good, it was tough, I'm glad it's over, but it's all part of the process," Rasmussen said.

Although it was grueling, Gustav Nyquist wouldn't admit it.

"It was awesome," Nyquist fibbed. "Loved every minute of it."

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