It’s looking more and more like the Detroit Red Wings hit the jackpot drafting Anthony Mantha.
Through his sheer and utter domination of the QMJHL and the IIHF world junior championship this season, Mantha — the Red Wings’ 20th overall pick in last June’s NHL entry draft — has brute-forced his way into the No. 1 spot in Red Wings Central’s mid-season ranking.
The 6-foot-5, 204-pound right-winger, a WJC all-star who finished tied for third in tournament scoring, is a true game-breaking talent with all the tools to be an NHL star and to ultimately take the offensive torch from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit.
Not only is Mantha blessed with tremendous size, he’s a great skater with an incredible reach, natural scoring instincts and lethal shooting ability. He can score in a variety of ways — driving wide on a defenseman and taking it to the net before beating a goalie, screening at the top of the crease and banging in a “garbage goal,” or sniping one into the top corner.
Despite missing 10 games while at the WJC, Mantha leads the QMJHL in scoring — and is second in Canada — with 41 goals and 44 assists for 85 points in 39 games.
In November, Red Wings director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright compared Mantha to New York Rangers winger Rick Nash because of his ability to “score goals and beat guys one-on-one.” To top it off, Canadian head coach Brent Sutter called Mantha “a sponge” when it came to his ability to soak up coaching advice on how to be a more complete player.
Simply put, Mantha could become a star NHL scorer — a cut above a top-six forward type — and is having the best year of any prospect in the Red Wings’ system.
Goaltender Petr Mrazek, ranked second, and winger Tomas Jurco, ranked third, were in the conversation with Mantha for No. 1 on RWC’s mid-season list. Center Calle Jarnkrok has slipped from first to fourth, while forward Riley Sheahan edged out defenseman Xavier Ouellet for the final spot in the top five courtesy of his impressive 12-game call-up to Detroit.
Jurco, Sheahan and No. 11-ranked Luke Glendening are all candidates to graduate from this list by season’s end, although that depends as much on their continued strong play as it does on how general manager Ken Holland manages the salary cap and roster restrictions.
Following is a rundown of RWC’s mid-season top 20 prospects:
1. Anthony Mantha (+3), RW, Val-d’Or (QMJHL), 39-41-44-85-44, plus-18, 213 SOG.
2. Petr Mrazek (–), G, Grand Rapids (AHL), 13 GP, 10-2-1, 2.09 GAA, .927 Sv%. Mrazek has all the assets to be a No. 1 NHL goaltender and he continues to show that every chance he gets. He’s on track to back up Jimmy Howard in Detroit next season.
3. Tomas Jurco (–), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 32-13-19-32-14, plus-10, 91 SOG. Jurco is showing he might be ready for prime time with his skill, tempo and work ethic. He’s not far behind Anthony Mantha and should be the next young top-six forward in Detroit.
4. Calle Jarnkrok (-3), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 44-10-13-23-14, plus-14, 74 SOG. Jarnkrok has been a disappointment in his first full AHL campaign, but don’t push the panic button yet. A skilled two-way center in the mold of Henrik Zetterberg, he clearly needs more time to adjust.
5. Riley Sheahan (+1), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 28-8-10-18-10, plus-1, 49 SOG. Sheahan was having a fine season in Grand Rapids, but in 12 games with Detroit he’s really shown doubters why the Red Wings took him 21st overall in 2010. He’s a big, strong, two-way force.
6. Xavier Ouellet (-1), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 41-4-9-13-18, plus-9, 54 SOG. One of the youngest defensemen to play for the Red Wings in two decades, Ouellet’s steady game has been a hit in the pros. Odds are he’ll be the first defenseman on this list to graduate to Detroit.
7. Ryan Sproul (–), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 44-8-15-23-26, plus-12, 100 SOG. Sproul wows with his big shot and offensive ability, and his production is impressive for an AHL rookie. With a little more work defensively, he’ll be a cornerstone for the Red Wings.
8. Mattias Backman (–), D, Linkoping (SHL), 42-4-12-16-8, plus-22, 49 SOG. Backman is one of the top dozen defensemen in Sweden and leads the league in plus-minus. Although he still needs to get stronger, he’s improved his defensive play and is maturing steadily.
9. Alexey Marchenko (+4), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 39-2-15-17-10, plus-15, 27 SOG. A sound defensive defenseman who doesn’t panic with the puck, Marchenko is already an AHL all-star with an NHL game under his belt. But he’ll benefit from more time on the farm.
10. Andreas Athanasiou (+4), LW, Barrie (OHL), 43-30-33-63-38, plus-20. Athanansiou has absolutely exploded offensively after a slow start. His incredible speed alone should be more than enough to get him to the NHL and there’s no telling where he’ll take it from there.
11. Luke Glendening (-1), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 18-5-7-12-18, plus-8, 26 SOG. He might seem low considering he tops this list in NHL games, but he is unlikely to be more than a fourth-line center. That said, he’s a defensive stalwart who is showing a surprising agitating edge.
12. Landon Ferraro (-3), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 41-11-13-24-29, plus-6, 118 SOG. Ferraro’s speed and ability to play in any situation make him a huge two-way asset. But when he loses his waiver exemption in the fall, Ferraro will need to force his way onto Detroit’s roster.
13. Teemu Pulkkinen (-2), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 44-17-20-37-24, plus-16, 128 SOG. Leading the Griffins in scoring in his first full North American season, the undersized sniper is developing as hoped. He could carve out a niche as a scoring winger in the NHL.
14. Adam Almquist (-2), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 41-1-28-29-38, plus-3, 72 SOG. Almquist has high-end skill and smarts, but his waiver exemption is up in the fall. He faces heavy competition within the prospect ranks and may not have the size and strength to stick in the NHL.
15. Mattias Janmark (+1), C/LW, AIK (SHL), 36-17-10-27-52, minus-5, 87 SOG. A dangerous center/winger with top-six NHL potential, Janmark is not unlike Teemu Pulkkinen. Having a breakout season in Sweden, he’s still at least another year away from North America.
16. Mitchell Callahan (+4), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 44-17-8-25-37, plus-15, 122 SOG. Defensively responsible and loaded with grit, Callahan leads Grand Rapids in goals but hasn’t gotten an NHL call-up. He may be the odd man out in the fall when his waiver exemption is up.
17. Zach Nastasiuk (-2), RW, Owen Sound (OHL), 47-14-21-35-18, minus-11. His production is slightly underwhelming as a third-year OHLer, but the Red Wings didn’t draft Nastasiuk to score. Otherwise, he’s playing good, solid defensive hockey and working hard.
18. Jake Paterson (+1), G, Saginaw (OHL), 30 GP, 16-11-2, 3.49 GAA, .908 Sv%. Paterson has never had elite numbers but he’s one of Canada’s best junior-aged goaltenders and is developing steadily. He’ll give Detroit excellent pro depth as an AHL rookie next season.
19. Martin Frk (-2), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 22-0-1-1-10, minus-10, 21 SOG. When you’re a team-worst minus-10 on a team with a plus-46 goal differential, you have a ton of work to do. Frk is at risk of getting lost in the shuffle, although youth and skill work in his favor.
T20. Nick Jensen (-2), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 17-0-0-0-2, plus-4, 10 SOG. Shoulder surgery derailed his rookie pro campaign, but he’s battled back and is starting to establish himself as a rookie pro. Working against him? He’s 23. For him? Two more waiver-exempt seasons.
T20. Tyler Bertuzzi (–), LW, Guelph (OHL), 29-10-25-35-49, plus-9. Bertuzzi was having a breakthrough season with a powerful Guelph squad before a head/neck injury knocked him out of commission in December. He remains an agitator in the making.
IN THE MIX: Goaltender Thomas McCollum (Grand Rapids, AHL) has reestablished himself as an option for the Red Wings and will likely be re-signed in the summer to be Detroit’s third-stringer … Center Andrej Nestrasil is no longer a highly-touted third-round pick, but he is suddenly a regular in Grand Rapids. Keep an eye on him next season … Defenseman Mitchell Wheaton is playing great hockey on a powerful team in Kelowna. His combination of size and smart puck-moving ability is worth monitoring … NCAA-bound left-winger David Pope isn’t lighting up the stats sheet quite as much as hoped , but he remains a hard-shooting scorer with underrated upside … Physical stay-at-home defenseman Richard Nedomlel is making the most of his time in the ECHL with Toledo and should graduate to Grand Rapids next season … Left-winger Marek Tvrdon is a tantalizing offensive talent who falls in the Martin Frk category of having plenty of work to do.