The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/15/14 at 02:08 PM ET
If you read the surprisingly rambly overnight report (I didn't mean to bury Gregg Krupa's fantastic Mantha profile at the end, but the narrative unfolded that way), the London Knights may not have won the OHL championship (Tyler Bertuzzi's Guelph Storm did), and they may not have played for three weeks, but the Mastercard Memorial Cup's hosts certainly seem to believe that an exhausted Val-d'Or Foreurs team and Mr. Mantha will be easy pickings in Friday night's tournament-opener (on Sportsnet at 7 PM; Sportsnet's already geo-blocking their videos, so that's swell).
There's no doubt that Mantha and Val-d'Or--and Bertuzzi and Guelph--will be playing the best of Junior Hockey's best in each other and the Edmonton Oil Kings, as well as those stacked Knights. That means Mantha, Bertuzzi et. al. will have to battle through some incredibly heavy checking, but some of this bluster is...
Bluster, and the whole, "Mantha is a one-dimensional player, we can check him into submission" line's been the line about him since the get-go.
With the Griffins most likely taking the day off to recharge after back-to-back games (and wins) against the Texas Stars, and Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser's Team USA having laid quite the egg at the World Championships (Gustav Nyquist and Sweden battle France at 1:45 PM), today's focus is on the pre-Memorial Cup machinations...
There are some legitimate questions about Mantha's Foreurs, as Sportsnet's Patrick King suggests...
Do the Foreurs have the secondary scoring to keep up? The Foreurs are led by Anthony Mantha, who’s quite possibly the best junior-aged player in the world right now. Mantha owns a hair-trigger release and pin-point accuracy on his shot, and has the perfect setup man in Louick Marcotte. Defencemen Guillaume Gelinas and Randy Gazzola also piled on the points this season and in the playoffs, helping Val-d’Or become the highest-scoring team in the QMJHL this season.
Beyond their top line and top two defencemen, however, scoring is a little thin for the Foreurs. Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Anthony Richard each had more than 50 points in the regular season, but aren’t counted on to score the big goals.
The Foreurs are reminiscent of the 2008 Gatineau Olympiques, who were led by Claude Giroux. The Olympiques weren’t able to carry over their success in the MasterCard Memorial Cup once a defensive blanket was put on Giroux, and the team crashed out once its star was shutdown. Opposing teams will try to do the same against the goal-a-game Mantha. If the secondary scoring isn’t there, the Foreurs won’t be, either.
And the same's true for Bertuzzi's storm...
Will talent alone be enough for the Guelph Storm? A troubling trend emerged through the Storm’s impressive playoff run. The Storm are unquestionably the favourites coming into the tournament with their overall depth at forward and defence. However, the foot came off the pedal at times throughout the run — most notably Game 4 in Erie and Games 3 and 5 against North Bay — but the talented Storm were able to overcome those blips.
Although head coach Scott Walker lamented his team for playing below their abilities in those games, the message probably didn’t sink in as much when there weren’t any consequences. The Storm stole a victory in North Bay in Game 3 of the OHL final and a late surge in Game 5 captured the title.
Every year a team shows up at the MasterCard Memorial Cup satisfied with their accomplishment and isn’t ready to go through another battle. The Storm have the most talent of any team in London, but if they rely on it and fail to play their system for a full 60 minutes, it will catch up to them here.
The Memorial Cup's website employed the services of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald's Wily Pavlov to pen an English-language summary of "How the Foreurs got here"...
“It was a team effort,” said Val-d’Or head coach Mario Durocher. “I think a lot of people were talking about different teams all the time and maybe forgot about us a little bit. But that was okay for us. We had a pretty good first half and got some confidence, then we challenged our guys to take another step and be even better, and they did it. We started to work together a lot more as a team, and I think we deserve everything we got. The guys earned it and I’m proud of them.”
The basis for the Foreurs’ success was the play of their elite core. Defencemen Randy Gazzola and Guillaume Gelinas were first-team league all-stars, goalie Antoine Bibeau was consistently outstanding and veteran forwards Louick Marcotte and Samuel Henley provided timely scoring and leadership.
And the main ingredient was winger Anthony Mantha, the league scoring champion and a first-team all-star. He posted 57 goals and 63 assists in 57 games to unseat Halifax superstar Jonathan Drouin as the league’s most valuable player. It’s no surprise the Foreurs were the highest-scoring team in the league with 306 goals in 68 games.
“Obviously our biggest strength is our offence,” Mantha said. “We’ve been scoring lots of goals since the beginning of the year, and we’re still producing. A lot of people didn’t believe in us. I think we showed that they were wrong and that we had the team.”
Like most championship teams, the evolution into a winner did not take place overnight. Players like Mantha, Henley, Gelinas, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Anthony Richard, Julien Gauthier and Olivier Galipeau were notable picks in past QMJHL drafts who developed into key performers under the guidance of the Val-d’Or coaching staff. With the exception of Mantha and Gelinas, both fifth-round steals, all those players were first-round picks.
“Some of us have been together for a long time and we grew up together in Val-d’Or,” said Mantha, the Detroit Red Wings’ first-round pick (20th overall) in 2013. “We’ve been building good chemistry all that time, and it’s fun for us to win together now.”
And as you might expect, Mantha, not Bertuzzi, was named to Yahoo Sports' Kelly Friesen's list of the top ten NHL-drafted prospects playing in the Memorial Cup (as were 3 members of the Knights, 4 members of the Oil Kings and 1 member of the Storm; Mantha was the only member of the Foreurs mentioned):
3. Anthony Mantha, wing, Val-d’Or Foreurs (Detroit Red Wings) – At the moment, Mantha seems to be the biggest first-round steal of the 2013 draft. The 6-foot-5, 204-pound 19-year-old lit the QMJHL on fire this year by scoring at a goal-per-game pace with 57 markers in 57 contests while adding 63 apples and 75 penalty minutes. And to think the Red Wings traded down to select the pure goal scorer with the 20th selection.
What truly makes Mantha one of the best NHL-drafted prospects in the world is that he has chewed up and spit out his last couple of challenges. The proof is in the pudding in how he netted five goals and 11 points in seven games at the world junior championship and blew the roof off the QMJHL post-season with 24 genos and 38 points in 24 matches.
Somewhat ironically, our other Wings-related story of the afternoon comes from ESPN's Craig Custance, who penned an Insider-only entry about prospect development, speaking with a certain former assistant GM from Detroit regarding the Wings' philosophy (and yes, Nill's Texas Stars are the Griffins' second-round opponent):
"You’re going to have different people ready at different times. There are kids ready at 19 and some at 22 that are not. It’s more player by player. I still think players need that time in the American League, it might be half a year or a year.”
For Nill, the most important part about time in the AHL is that it allows young players to find their niche as professionals.
“First of all, you go from wherever you came from in Europe, college or junior where you’ve been the best player -- you’re getting put into a league where everybody else has been the best player,” Nill said. “Unfortunately, there’s only so much ice time. You can look at every team in the NHL -- their third-line forwards are 50-goal scorers in junior.”
And, regarding those who don't follow Ken Holland's, "We like our players over-ripe" philosophy...
The other reason players are rushed? Economics. When every dollar counts under the cap, it’s so tempting to populate your third and fourth lines with young, energetic players on entry-level deals, even if it might stunt their development.
“The salary-cap world has changed it,” Nill said. “You can get a young player making $550,000, $650,000, $700,000 and you’ve got to fit them in. The player you might want to fit in is making $2.5 million.”
That affects how teams will address free agency this summer. Nill is scouting his AHL team hard right now and is impressed by some of the young defensemen coming in the Stars’ system. A long playoff run in the AHL can be huge for the development of young players; it's akin to an additional half-season of development. It also allows for more evaluation time.
“We’re all going to look at free agents, holes to fill in the third and fourth line,” Nill said. “Because of the salary cap, they’ve got to make $1 million.”
The problem? “They all want $2.5 million,” he said.
Here's hoping that the Wings go with the Callahans, Ferraros and even Glendenings instead.
Meanwhile, from the Boston Bruin-big-talkers of the Memorial Cup...
FTR: Don Cherry did show Mantha's QMJHL championship-winning goal at the 5:15 mark of last night's Coach's Corner:
Update: Sportsnet's Patrick King penned a Storm profile for the Memorial Cup's website:
Even though the Knights are hosting this year’s MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Storm recognized this was their time. The 2010 draft, headed up by Brooks, was a home run. The core 1994 birthdates drafted in 2010 featured the team’s captain in Finn (Toronto), a 49-goal scorer in Kosmachuk (Winnipeg), a speedy offensive playmaker in McGinn (Carolina), along with Zac Leslie (Los Angeles) and Justin Auger (Los Angeles).
All five were drafted by NHL teams.
“The story that’s unwritten — Jason Brooks should get a lot more credit,” Walker said. “Six of our top nine forwards and two of our top four defencemen are Jason Brooks’ draft picks. Five of the players drafted in 2010 were drafted to the National Hockey League. That’s an unbelievable, unheard-of draft.”
“We were quick to identify that our ’94 birthdates were an above-average draft year,” Kelly said, “so it just made sense for us to try to add to that and try to peak with this year.”
The Storm landed Kerby Rychel and Nick Ebert in a mega transaction with Windsor in December. It was a sensitive trade in that Rychel’s rights were being negotiated by his father Warren, part owner and GM of the Spitfires.
“Being my last year in junior, I knew it was a chance I’d get traded,” Rychel said. “It was a little bit different, obviously, being traded by my dad. We kind of had a relationship where at the rink it was GM and hockey player and away from the rink it was dad and son.”
Rychel added a physical dimension alongside his offensive attributes. His penchant for playing with grit and establishing a net presence are two reasons the Storm knew he would make an impact.
“He’s a little crazy around the net sometimes,” Finn said. “He’s one of those guys you don’t like playing against, [but] you like having him on your team.”
Add a Comment
Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.
Most Recent Blog Posts
About The Malik Report
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.