The Malik Report
by George Malik on 11/19/13 at 05:08 AM ET
Anthony Mantha registered a goal and an assist in the first game of the "Super Series" between what are essentially all-star teams representing the Canadian Hockey League's three respective major junior-playing branches in the QMJHL, OHL and WHL, and the Red Wings have already signed the 20th overall pick in the 2013 draft to an entry-level contract for a simple reason:
Mantha would've been way more expensive to sign later, even though he already has what Capgeek states is the highest-cap-hit contract of any Wings prospect at $925,000 per season for his first three years (with a $70,000 AHL salary and a $92,500 signing bonus for his first three years as a pro, and that $925,000 isn't an averaged number; it's the NHL salary he'd earn).
Even by the high-scoring QMJHL's standards, Mantha's status as its top scorer, with 24 goals, 30 assists and 55 points registered over the course of all of 23 games for the middling Val-d'Or Foreurs is incredibly impressive, and at 6'5" and a listed 204 pounds and perhaps another 15 pounds worth of filling out left to go on a very lanky frame, Mantha's been a Red Wings prospect for all of five-and-a-half months, but he's earned his 4th-best-prospect ranking on RedWingsCentral's Fall Top 20 Prospects list.
I wouldn't normally dedicate an entire entry to one NHL.com story about Mantha, but NHL.com's James Murphy busts something of a myth in a lengthy profile of Mantha, revealing that the person who first caught sight of Mantha did so almost two years ago, and it wasn't dear and departed-for-Dallas-to-GM-the-team Jim Nill.
Instead, Red Wings assistant GM Ryan Martin watched Mantha play while scouting Xavier Ouellet, and the man who was the team's capologist during the 11-12 season
"The first time I saw him play I was in Blainville-Boisbriand to watch Xavier Ouellette play," Martin said. "I don't see all of these prospects play as much as the regular amateur scouts do and getting to watch our unsigned prospects. So I was in town watching Xavier play and Val-d'Or was in town to play Blainville.
"[Mantha] was an underage then and I remember thinking he's obviously a big 6-4 athletic kid who skates really well and has good puck skills. Val-d'Or didn't have a great team then and Blainville had a very strong team. But he found a way to create opportunities by himself and make his teammates better. He had a really good game the first time I saw him and obviously he's a guy that ended up scoring 50 goals the next year, his draft year, but he was always somebody who showed great offensive skill."
That 50-goal and 89-point season in 2012-13 obviously caught the eye of many NHL scouts and raised the stock of the then 190-pound wing from Longueuil, Quebec, Canada. But the Red Wings scouting team was locked in on Mantha so much that, according to Mantha, in a pre-draft interview with Red Wings GM Ken Holland, he was told Detroit would take him with the 20th pick in the 2013 draft if he was still available.
The Wings did just that, and while Mantha admittedly has room for improvement and knows he isn't quite ready to make the jump to the NHL, he has Holland, Martin and the Red Wings scouting team happy with their decision so far as he is tearing up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 24 goals and 54 points through 23 games this season with Val-d'Or.
"I remember before the draft, Ken [Holland] told me, 'We'll get you,' and they did," Mantha said recently. "I thought before Detroit drafted maybe another team may get me, but when it was Detroit I was happy because that meant a lot to me for them to have that confidence. It makes me want to make them proud they chose me even more. They showed they believe in me and I'm trying my hardest now to improve and do what I need to do to make the next level."
I still find it utterly remarkable that the Wings were able to trade down a pick (19 to 20, and they picked up the second round pick the team used to draft Tyler Bertuzzi in the trade) to snag Mantha as the San Jose Sharks were afraid that the Wings would snag defenseman Mirco Muller--who's no slouch himself--but the Red Wings needed to add another natural goal-scorer to their prospect mix (Martin Frk certainly fits the bill, even though he's cutting his professional teeth in the ECHL at present) and preferably a power forward as well.
The Wings got their man, and while he's both 19 and slipped to the Wings because his lack of engagement in some games yielded Johan Franzen-like comparisons (he actually goes to the front of the net more than Franzen, who really is more comfortable lurking on Darren Helm's wing as a sniper), Sports and Moore's interview with Mantha revealed that Mantha's backing up his talk with a studious attitude, and yes, while Mantha's actually a very humble young man, he was confident enough to tell the press that his goal was to make the Wings' roster during both the summer development camp and the fall prospect tournament:
The Red Wings don't believe that Mantha exited the Wings' first championship-winning prospect tournament as a finished product, as Martin told Murphy...
"Every year there's always a handful of players there that make the jump right from there to the NHL, like a Jeff Skinner for instance," Martin said. "So when kids come into that tournament right after they're drafted, it's very hard for them to make an impact and standout. I'd say there's probably two exceptions to that rule this past year with [Valeri] Nichushkin in Dallas and [Rasmus] Ristolainen in Buffalo were two kids that looked like they were at the head of the class.
"In Anthony's case I would say that by the end of the tournament -- and it's a four-game tournament -- so I would say by end of game three and the end of game four, he had a big game four and scored a couple goals, he was starting to find his way. So when we bring him in at the end of that tournament, it's a really eye-opening experience for the young man, to go from the Quebec Major Junior League right into that. So we just gave him our advice at the end of that tournament. We said, 'You've scored 50 goals and in order to play in the NHL you need to be a 200-foot player, so that's what you'll have to go back and work on and do all the little things.'"
But Mantha told Murphy that he's well aware of his need to keep improving and keep pushing himself to be a better hockey player both on and off the ice (which is exactly what the Wings hope to hear from their prospects):
"I don't really pay attention to the weekly awards I'm getting or the attention because that's not what's most important to me," Mantha said. "What's most important, like I said, is that I keep doing what Detroit needs me to do. I keep working on being an everyday player and working hard every game and every day off the ice so I can make it to the next level."
I've seen enough of Mantha playing to tell you that he's got a long way to go in terms of both his physical development, engagement and attention to detail, but he's the real deal, and outside of Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen, the aforementioned Frk and especially Calle Jarnkrok, Mantha's definitely got the biggest "upside" of any other Wings forward prospect, and he is certainly the biggest "skilled player" the Wings have drafted since the team went after Keith Primeau in 1990. But Mantha's way more talented offensively and way more determined than Primeau was.
That, and I sure hope that he has a much of a sense of humor about what I'll suggest is a liberal pronunciation of his name:
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.