There weren’t many 2013 draft prospects more polarizing among NHL scouts than Anthony Mantha. Some see a future top-line NHL sniper, others brushed him off as a skilled but lazy winger whose competitiveness doesn’t cut it.
The Detroit Red Wings lean more toward the former than the latter and went for the home-run pick on Sunday when they selected the 6-foot-4, 190-pound left-winger with their first-round pick, 20th overall, after trading down from the No. 18 slot.
Mantha was the top goal-scoring prospect in the entire draft, leading the QMJHL with 50 goals while taking a league-high 323 shots, showcasing the deft touch and tremendous shooting ability that could make him a top-line NHLer half a decade from now.
“I saw him a couple of times where he was dominant,” said Red Wings scout Jeff Finley. “He takes the puck wide and can beat defensemen, take it to the net … he has a knack for finding open ice and he has a good shot and release. I wouldn’t label him as just a scorer, either. He’s creative and he can see the ice and make plays. He’s a gifted all-around offensive player.”
TSN scout and former NHL general manager Craig Button went as far as to compare Mantha to Pittsburgh Penguins 40-goal-scorer James Neal and the Red Wings would be overjoyed if Mantha panned out that well.
There’s very little not to like about him in the offensive zone.
“I like the size, the skating — he’s got lots of speed and mobility for a big guy — he can shoot on the fly and his hockey sense is good,” said Red Wings scout Mario Marois. “He can play any style he wants offensively. He is very good down low, too. He has a good shot, he protects the puck well.”
But the knocks on Mantha come fast and furious from some scouts. One told The Hockey News under cover of anonymity that “he’s not the most eager kid. Some nights you wonder where the intensity is.” Piled on Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief via USA Today: “Does this guy even have a pulse? Plays with absolutely zero fire or passion.”
The Red Wings don’t deny Mantha has some work to do in terms of his intensity on a shift-to-shift basis and also on playing in his own zone.
“He’s not perfect, but sometimes (top junior) players play a lot of minutes … and they cheat,” Marois said. “That’s probably what happened with him at times. He was up north in Val-d’Or (Quebec) and they have long bus rides … so sometimes he cheats. That will be for us to take care of those flaws and make sure he’s improving all the time.”
Val-d’Or, as Marois points out, is one of the most remote locations in the QMJHL, almost a six-hour drive from Montreal and another two hours to Quebec City. There’s no doubt it takes its toll on a young player over a 68-game schedule.
The Red Wings are comfortable enough with Mantha that they believe he’ll be able to iron out the kinks in his game. Because he has a late birthdate, he’ll play just one more year in the QMJHL with Val-d’Or before being eligible to play in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
If everything goes according to plan, he’ll be filling the net for the Red Wings half a decade from now.
“He brings a pretty good package,” Marois said. “I think this kid’s got real good upside for the Red Wings.”