Wings first-round pick Anthony Mantha, here putting on a Detroit jersey during the 2013 NHL draft, gives the team a proven scorer with ample size (6-foot-4). (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Detroit— The Red Wings got their big man with a heavy shot, whom some observers are calling “a sniper.”
Is he Bryan Bickell, Vincent Lecavalier or Nathan Horton, the unrestricted free agents? No. This was the 2013 NHL draft, not unrestricted free agency.
As is often the case when it comes to the Wings these days, the fans simply are going to have to be more patient than that.
The player is an 18-year-old from Quebec named Anthony Mantha. At 6-foot-4, 190 or 200 pounds — depending on which scouting report one reads — with good skating skills for a big man and a heavy wrist shot, Mantha was the only 50-goal scorer in the draft.
Ken Holland looked happy at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. Mike Babcock looked ebullient.
The Red Wings may have the big sniper they have needed since Brendan Shanahan left town. But fans will not know for a while.
Mantha is unlikely to play in the NHL until about 2017.
Quick help unlikely
But fans of the Red Wings ought to be excited, nonetheless.
The fact of the matter is Bickell, Lecavalier and Horton are utterly unlikely to come to Detroit to play for the Wings. At this point in their careers, all three are still looking for a big payday.
The Blackhawks, for whom the large, gritty Bickell scored nine goals on the way to the Stanley Cup, were intent Sunday on clearing as much cap space as it could, trading Dave Bolland to the Maple Leafs. By the end of the day, they had re-signed Bickell for four years at $16 million.
Reportedly, the Red Wings are one of eight teams who have talked to Lecavalier, 33, who scored only 10 goals, albeit in the lockout-shortened season of 2013. It is conceivable most if not all of the other seven teams will offer Lecavalier more money and time.
Horton? The Bruins, who played in the Stanley Cup Finals, do not do well in the playoffs without the big forward. But, while Horton’s injury problems have been manifest, they may not keep some teams from showering the sizeable marksman with dollars.
Given the lay of the land in the NHL and the current status of the Red Wings, the importance of the NHL draft is increased and Mantha is an exciting development worth watching over the next few seasons.
What does it mean about now?
It means the Wings will continue to amass young talent to restock both the Calder Cup-winning Grand Rapids Griffins and their own increasingly youthful, surprisingly-successful roster in Detroit. And when they have enough pieces in place to pull the trigger on some moves for free agents that will suddenly and markedly increase their chances of winning the Stanley Cup, they will do it.
But, until then, Junes and Julys are more about youth and development for the Red Wings. While that makes thing less exciting, it also seems like the shrewd strategy.
While it is less than 50-50, perhaps considerably so, that they will sign a big-name unrestricted free agent this month, they were picking up what they needed for the more distant future by drafting large, goal-scoring forwards.
It has been a need for a few seasons that was underlined again this year, when goals were at a premium for the Red Wings, especially in postseason.
Picks will be heard from
Mantha is the highest forward selected in the draft by the Wings since Martin Lapointe, when that sizeable shooter was selected 10th in 1991.
They also selected 6-1, 190-pound Zach Nastasiuk, a goal-scoring forward, with the 48th pick, and Tyler Bertuzzi, Todd’s nephew, a 6-foot, 178-pound goal-scoring forward, at 59th. Both Nastasiuk and Bertuzzi, who is less sizeable than his uncle but shares some of his tenacious, physical instincts, were selected in the second round.
The trio are unlikely to play anytime soon. But as the Red Wings continue to retool, as they continue to add youth and size to the lineup, they may be important acquisitions to be heard from in the years to come.
Meanwhile, Holland and Babcock are undoubtedly interested in kicking a lot of tires in free agency this month. There are more players than just Lecavalier and Horton still available.
But after re-signing defenseman Jakub Kindl and penalty-killing forward Drew Miller this week and drafting the trio of goal-scoring forwards, the Wings undoubtedly believe they already have had the sort of success this offseason that is consistent with how they intend to restructure a perennial Stanley Cup contender: with draft choices and with players they develop in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Toledo, to be topped-off, eventually, with some key free-agent acquisitions or trades.
Something big might yet develop for them in the summer of 2013 along those two paths.
Even if it does not, however, their current plans are proceeding apace.