By Michael Musalem
If you didn’t already know, the Detroit Red Wings are pretty good at sniffing out elite talent at the draft. In the case of first-rounder Anthony Mantha, the Original Six franchise may have just done it again.
Selected 20th overall in 2013, Mantha was far from a household name in the hockey community until the following December, when he was chosen to represent Canada at the World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. The Longueuil, Que., native would go on to lead Canada in scoring with 11 points while being named to the tournament all-star team. And for a young unknown like Mantha, that was huge.
“It helped me a lot,” Mantha said. “It started off the year before when I had a good season. Then I came in last year and had a great first half, so when I went up the world juniors my confidence level was already way higher. From there I just kept pushing, and it went great.”
The Val-d’Or alum heads into Wings camp this September with the goal of making the team outright, and according to a May interview with The Hockey News, GM Ken Holland wants to give Mantha every opportunity to do just that.
“We’re going to give him a real chance in camp,” Holland said. “We’d be pretty stupid if we just gave him two exhibition games and then sent him to Grand Rapids.”
Mantha, the paternal grandson of four-time Cup champ Andre Pronovost, doesn’t exactly embody the defensive game of his ancestor. But the soon-to-be 20-year-old hopes to change that.
“I worked a lot on my defensive zone,” Mantha said. “It’s the key to maybe playing in the NHL one day. I need to be strong offensively but also defensively.”
There should be a good amount of competition for roster spots in Detroit this year, as Mantha, a 6-foot-4 right winger, is just one of many young players and prospects looking to make an impact for the Wings this season. The reigning Canadian Hockey League player of the year is well aware of this, but also thinks he was brought to Hockeytown for a reason.
“I need to be great defensively, but if I play my game, they’re probably going to be pleased with it, because they drafted me to play that game,” he said.
Perhaps no one in the league was bitten harder than Detroit by the injury bug last year, and that paved the path for a number of young players to help the team make its 23rd straight playoff appearance. Mantha loved what he saw, and wants to be a part of the fun.
“The kids last year – Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, all those guys – they played great for the Wings, and I hope I can help them out in the near future and keep the success going. I just need to work hard.”