"I think he can become the next power forward in this league," Vanek said after the Wings' practice at Toyota Sports Center Saturday afternoon. "His size, his skill-set, his skating, you don't see that combination that much. He's still young. The consistency is probably for all us, still not quite there, but he can become a real good power forward in this league."
Mantha, 24, has said he's aiming for at least 30 goals this season after falling a bit short with 24 last year, but Vanek wants him to aim even higher.
"I think 30 goals is like 20 to most of us," Vanek said. "I think he has potential is way more than that in my opinion. I don't think he believes in himself as much as he should. I don't think he realizes how strong he is. Once he figures that part out, then the game will come easier for him."
Vanek, 34, had 24 goals himself last season for the Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets and has scored as many as 43 goals in a single season.
He believes Mantha, at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, is certainly capable of that kind of success.
"I tell him every day," Vanek said. "You're big, you're strong, no one can stop you. Play like it. We have seen parts of it but we need him to do it most nights."
Dylan Larkin, who has been playing with Mantha since late last season, sees the same kind of potential for Mantha as Vanek does.
"I think Anthony can be one of the best power forwards in the NHL," Larkin said. "He's known for his goal scoring, he just needs a chance and he can bury the puck.
"He's got such a big body. He's like James van Riemsdyk in that sense. But I think he's got a great shot and you see him score multiple times from outside the dots, the top of the circles, from long ranges. He's got a great shot and great speed and he can use that and drive the net and be a hard player to defend."
As two of the younger core of players with NHL experience, the hope is that Larkin and Mantha will become the driving forces on the team, especially now that Henrik Zetterberg is no longer able to play.
"They spent some time together early last year with (Martin) Frk and they were together at the end," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I'm hoping to create a good pairing between the two of them. They're two of our best players. I'm hoping they can really build chemistry off each other. They've been fine. I think they've had moments of being real good together. If you have those two together, both guys have the ability to score, both guys have the ability to make plays. We're hoping the two can become a real good pairing."
Larkin said remaining with Mantha helps both players learn each other better, which should eventually lead to a more potent combination.
"It helps a lot," Larkin said. "It helps knowing where a guy's going, what are his tendencies and it's nice when you know you're just going to stay with him and you guys are going to have to figure it out. If you're having an off night, you need to find a way to make something happen. You can't go two, three games where you don't create much. You need to be good on a consistent basis."
JENSEN COULD PLAY: Defenseman Nick Jensen was a healthy scratch for the Wings' home opener against the Blue Jackets Thursday night.
But his exile to the bench could be a short-lived one.
On Saturday, Jensen skated with rookie Libor Sulak while Danny DeKeyser was paired with rookie Filip Hronek; Trevor Daley was with rookie Dennis Cholowski; and Joe Hicketts skated with Luke Witkowski.
"It's to get a look at them and then we'll see, if Jensen makes his way in the game, we wanted to see, it's righties and lefties, we're just trying to figure out the best scenario," Blashill said.
DeKeyser, Daley, Cholowski, Sulak and Hicketts are all left shots while Jensen, Hronek and Witkowski are right shots.
Although he is still somewhat young in terms of NHL experience with 130 games under his belt, Jensen is a wily veteran compared to Sulak, Cholowski, Hronek and Hicketts.
"Jensen is a good player," Blashill said. "We didn't win. I wanted to look at him and see how those pairs were together. We'll make the final decision tomorrow. Jensen didn't have a great camp but he's also had real good games for us for a couple years. He brings a real good ability to penalty kill, real competitive guy who does a real good job gapping, so we'll see."
INJURY UPDATE: Defensemen Niklas Kronwall (lower body) and Jonathan Ericsson (upper body) skated before the team practiced Saturday but they remain a ways away from returning.
"Neither Kronwall or Ericsson will be available for either game," Blashill said.
Defenseman Mike Green (virus) did not make the trip.
Young forward Evgeny Svechnikov (lower body) also skated with the injured players before practice.