As the world continues to await the fate of the 2019-20 NHL season, we dive into week two of our player reviews for the Detroit Red Wings. Last week, we discussed the season of future captain Dylan Larkin and what his future holds in Hockeytown. Today, we continue to discuss the top young forwards for the Wings as we take a look at the season of Anthony Mantha.
It has been an interesting start to the career of the man they call Mo. The 25-year-old grandson of four-time Stanley Cup Champion Andre Pronovost was drafted 20th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by a Red Wings team on the verge of a rebuild. Since joining Detroit in 2015-16, Mantha has grown into one of the best goal scorers on the team. Let’s take a look at how he grew into that as we analyze the start to his career, his 2019-20 season and what’s to come for the 6’5″ Canadian.
An exciting prospect
The drafting of Anthony Mantha in 2013 was followed by a lot of hype for the big power forward. The following season in the QMJHL for the Val-d’Or Foreurs, he had a league leading 57 goals and 120 points in just 57 games. He led them to a President’s Cup trophy with 24 goals in 24 playoff games. In the same year, he played for the Canadian team at the IIHF World Junior Championships where he lead the team in scoring with 11 points.
He came to the Grand Rapids Griffins with even more hype behind him and he delivered. In 2015-16, he was fourth on the team in scoring with 45 points in 60 games. He also got some time up with the Red Wings that year and scored his first NHL goal against the Montreal Canadiens. Mantha would then return to the Griffins for the start of the 2016-17 season but that was short lived. He would score eight goals in the first 10 games of the season and got the call up to the NHL for good.
Mantha would steadily improve over his first three NHL seasons. His goal numbers increased each year and would’ve most likely joined Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou as the first 30 goal scorers for the Wings since 2009 if he hadn’t missed 15 games with injuries. He was the most physical of Detroit’s top line players, racking up 91 hits in the 2017-18 season. 2019-20 looked to be a breakout year for Mantha, and boy did he break out.
Becoming the Man-tha
There wasn’t a player in hockey who had nearly as explosive a start as Anthony Mantha in 2019-20. In just the second game of the season, the power forward would score all four Red Wings goals in a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars. The fourth of these goals was the game winner which came with just 53 seconds left in the game. He was only the second Red Wing ever to score four goals in the home opener.
While linemate Dylan Larkin would fall off after the initial hot start by Detroit, Mantha kept putting points up. The big winger quickly became the focus of the offense taking at least five shots in six of the first 18 games. He was leading the team in points and seemed well on his way to a career year. The Wings were struggling at 7-14-3 through 24 games, but Mantha had 12 goals and 23 points. Hockeytown knew that this would be a hard year, but Mo was giving the fans a reason to tune in every game. That was when his year derailed quickly.
Injuries stall out the season
On November 23rd against the New Jersey Devils, Mantha would leave in the first period with an apparent knee injury. He limped off the ice after an awkward collision that had Red Wings fans hoping for the best. While it was nothing too serious, he would miss the next three weeks as the Wings would lose all eight games without him.
Mantha would return as the Red Wings defeated the Canadiens, 2-1. Coach Jeff Blashill would ease him back into the lineup over the next couple of games. However, that’s when things turned from bad to worse. With just two minutes to play in a loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mantha went after Jake Muzzin following a hit by the defenseman on teammate Madison Bowey. The two would get in a scrum when this happened.
The questionable play by Muzzin would leave Mantha with both a fractured rib and a punctured lung. He would be out for the next month and a half. What had started out as a potential career year for the big power forward quickly turned into disappointment. This was his second season in a row derailed in some way by injuries. To make matters worse, both of his two biggest injuries, this one against Toronto and a hand injury from 2018-19, were caused by fighting. They were easily avoidable but cost both him and his team in the end.
Mo returns…as a playmaker?
Mantha would finally return on February 11th against the Buffalo Sabres and quickly began producing. However, this wasn’t the production one would normally expect from him. In the final 14 games before the NHL was suspended, he would have just four goals. However, he did have 10 assists as well.
This form peaked late in the season as the Wings took on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mantha would have one goal and three assists as the worst team in the league stunned the Lightning in a shootout, 5-4. Much like with Larkin, it was one of the highlights for what was an awful season for the fans in Hockeytown.
Mantha would end the year with 38 points in 43 games and was by far his best season at taking care of the puck with just 30 giveaways compared to 67 in 67 games the year prior. He finished second on the team in shots despite missing 28 games. He also just missed out on his career high in assists as he had his best season distributing the puck. It was a solid year for Mantha that could’ve been better if it wasn’t for injuries.
Where does Mo go from here?
Unlike Larkin, Mantha does not have a long term deal locked up. He signed a 2 year/$6.6 million deal in 2018 which expires at the end of the season. He is a restricted free agent so the Wings do have a chance to match any offer sheet. However, I would think GM Steve Yzerman will look to lock him up this offseason before any team can offer him.
Anthony Mantha is a fantastic goal scorer who uses his size well and has good hands. At 6’5″ and 234 pounds, you expect him to be a physical player. However, two years in a row, he has suffered an injury from a fight that cost him significant time. While it’s nice to see players be physical, you want your best offensive players on the ice as much as possible. He is possibly the best pure scorer on this roster at the moment and he can’t do that from the box or the stands.
With a foggy future in the midst of the rebuild, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2020-21 for Mantha. Yzerman will have to pull the trigger and give him the long term deal that he wants and I expect him to. I see Mantha as a top 3 forward on this team when they’re competing again and the best chance the Wings have of seeing their first 40 goal scorer since 2009.
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