TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Anthony Mantha fully understands the expectations that have been heaped upon his 19-year-old shoulders.
An extremely gifted hockey player with an extraordinary scoring touch, it is conceivable Detroit fans will see Mantha in a Red Wings’ uniform sooner than later. And it’s that reason he’s approaching this week’s development camp at Centre Ice Arena with a desire to succeed.
“Having been here last year; this year I know what I need to do,” said Mantha, the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick in 2013. “They gave us the message to be every-dayers starting last year and that’s what I’m trying to do this year.”
Mantha and 43 other former draft picks, free agents and invitees are in northern Michigan for the Red Wings five-day orientation camp, which the team has hosted every summer consistently since 1998. In its fourth summer in Traverse City, prospects – especially those players new to the camp – are expected to learn concepts specific to the way of the Red Wings’ culture, both on the ice and off of it.
Though players spent just an hour on the ice Friday, they received plenty of material that they are expected to mentally process in a short period of time.
“We’re trying to break everyday down into a core habit that is important for guys to be successful to play for Mike Babcock in Detroit and to play for us in Grand Rapids,” Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “So today we worked a lot on taking away the other team’s time in space, making it hard through angling, through being above people, through cutting off, through doing those types of things. I thought it was a real good first day.
“The other thing I’d say is we’re working on trying to set the tone for how hard we practice and how much we pay attention to details in practice.”
Every one of the players at camp has potential to become an NHL player, but it’s how these prospects perform at camps like these that can be a determining factor in whether their dreams become reality.
Lots have been made of Mantha’s career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the 107 goals that he scored over the past two seasons. However, even he knows the past will only get him so far.
“I think it’s just about being calm, coming out here and doing what I should be doing here,” he said. “If I’m doing the right things then I’ll get my chance. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself.”
Built like a power forward, Mantha has the God-given talent to play in NHL but it’s the confidence in his own abilities that makes it easy to see why he can soon be a star in this league.
“I came here last year with that mentality and I’ll go to the main camp (in September) with the same mentality because you want to be an NHLer one day in your life,” Mantha said. “And as soon as that can come I will make every little step that I can do get there.”
More than likely, Mantha will join forward Andreas Athanasiou at the beginning of the upcoming season as first-year pros in Grand Rapids, where they will continue to learn the Wings’ systems under Blashill and the Griffins coaching staff. Mantha and Athanasiou are out of junior eligibility and could be the next wave of young forwards to make their NHL debuts with Detroit.
“I think that both Anthony and Andreas are really talented guys but what I was most impressed with though was their attention to detail in practice and how hard they did every drill,” Blashill said. “They look like leaders out there to me, which they should be, and I thought they did a real good job. We know they both have lots of talent. There are some things they’ll obviously have to get better at like every player, but I like the approach that they took today. I thought it was a great sign.”
Late last season, Athansiou played two regular-season games and six AHL playoff games in Grand Rapids. He’s joined this week by six Griffins teammates at camp – forwards Zach Nastasiuk, defensemen Alexey Marchenko, Marc McNulty and Richard Nedomlel, and goalies Jared Coreau and Jake Paterson. Also in Traverse City are RPI coach Seth Appert and ECHL Toledo coach Derek Lalonde and assistant Dan Watson, who are working alongside Grand Rapid’s coaching staff during the camp.
This is Athanasiou’s third development camp since the Red Wings selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, and each year he’s learned something new to help his development.
“Just being older you pick up on things a little bit more,” Athanasiou said. “Getting a taste of pro hockey there in Grand Rapids you know what it’s going to take, and every little bit of information is going to help even if it’s the smallest little thing. It can go a long way so you have to pay attention and learn whatever you can to become a better hockey player.”
In his third year, Athanasiou also welcomes the leadership role that comes as a camp veteran.
“I think when I came in here the leaders were great and made it a little family for this week,” he said. “I think that’s a big thing with the Red Wings, how classy the organization are and they make sure that every player gets along with each other. Being that this is my third year here I’ll do whatever I can to help the new guys out and give them as much information as I can.”
Before taking to the ice Friday, prospects underwent medical physicals performed by team doctors that included an electrocardiogram, a family history screening, and blood work.
“I’m sure a lot of these guys are doing protein supplements and may affect their potassium, electrolytes and kidney functions, so we want to make sure those are OK,” said Dr. Anthony Colucci, who is beginning his 24th season as a Wings’ team doctor. “Most of these young kids are pretty healthy, but those are probably the biggest ones, also, is concussion an issue? When was your last one? Do you have problems now? None of them have any issues, but those are the things that we make sure are OK before we stick them out on the ice.”
Once on the ice, first-year prospects like Dylan Larkin and Dominic Turgeon, who were drafted last weekend, and recent free-agent signing Tomas Nosek, got their first glimpse at what it will take to become a pro.
“We did some video before the skate, going over concepts of the Red Wings that they want us to learn,” said Larkin, who was Detroit’s first-round pick (No. 15 overall) last weekend in Philadelphia. “It’s an important stop that makes a difference in the NHL and the next level so it’s good to learn.”